Heavyweight – Frost/Nixon

frost_nixon_ver2So we finally saw one of the most anticipated political drama of 2008 yesterday, Frost/Nixon. In short, it’s a great movie if you’re into that genre. Fazil reckoned that its Best Film nomication at the Oscar is well-deserved. However, Fikri thought that while it is still an entertaining and well-made film, he wouldn’t necessarily place it in the top five films he saw in the past year or so. It is, however, a very ‘Oscar’ film, in the sense that it ticks all the right boxes (the right cast and crew members, the right people behind the camera, the right people doing the lobbying), and so Fikri’s not particularly surprised.

It’s quite surprising, because the film, in a lot of ways, is not really a film. It is an interview masquerading as a film, with plenty of behind-the-scenes footages for support. However, its construction as a film is such that the interview of a former president, though it had an intriguing subject matter at hand, managed to hold our attention throughout the whole film.

"No, it's not rude to point if you're the President."
"No, it's not rude to point if you're the President."

However, we’re jumping ahead of ourselves here. At the start, we are given plenty of context setting up the eventual situation. It is one of the most infamous scandals in American history, political or otherwise, and yet it is a fair reflection of the times that Ron Howard felt the need to start off with a series of archival clips detailing the events of Watergate. It’s not an unconventional way of doing things, but this, in addition to the various cutaway interviews with the supporting characters of the film, helps to provide a lot more context to the situation.This is where the editing comes in handy, managing to weave together both bits without making it seem too much like a documentary, which it could easily have been.

It’s can also provide moments of humour. For example, Richard Nixon’s agent revealed how he managed to negotiate the interview fee for him. One moment, he’s explaining to the president how Frost offered him $500,000, and in the next moment, he tells us, straight-faced, “I got six.” Yes, it doesn’t seem so funny now, but Fikri laughed at this bit, for some reason. Maybe it’s one of those things where you’ve got to see it to get it.

And so we see the build up throughout the film between the two heavyweights, David Frost (Martin Sheen) and Richard Nixon (Frank Langella). Frost, the relative unknown looking for a way up in the world, and Nixon, the too-well-known personality looking for his way back up in the world. Both are in different places of their lives, but at the same time, they are portrayed as being incredibly similar. Fikri deliberately used the word ‘heavyweights’ at the start of this paragraph, mainly because he feels as if the filmmakers took a direct approach to set the whole thing up as a boxing match. However, at times, it feels as if the fight is between the two boxers and the rest of the world, minus the violence and the blood. All the thrills of an exciting boxing match were all present and you can’t help but cheer for either Frost or Nixon.

A $600,000 golden handshake.
A $600,000 golden handshake.

One example Fikri remembered vividly is Nixon’s aide, Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) jumping in during one part of the interview, when it appeared that the former president was under the cosh. It reminded him of a fighter’s trainer throwing the white towel into the ring when it is clear that his fighter couldn’t continue.

Do not mistake that weakness for a weak performance. If anything, Fazil thinks that Frank Langella gave a powerhouse performance as President Richard Nixon, and Fikri is not too far behind him in seconding that. Although the Watergate scandal that took place prior to Nixon’s abdication from the presidency was a bitter moment for all Americans, one cant help but feel sorry for him towards to end due to Langella’s fantastic performance. Michael Sheen, on the other hand, was almost completely overshadowed by Langella. Fikri doesn’t mean to say that it’s a bad performance, but it’s even worse with Fazil: “I keep seeing him as Lucian from Underworld 3 and that’s not very good. My dad says he grins a lot, unlike the real David Frost.”

Oilver Platt, Sam Rockwell, Mathew McFayden, Rebecca Hall and Kevin Bacon were all great as supporting cast. They played their role very well, especially Rockwell, whom I now can’t wait to see as the villain in Iron Man 2. Altogether, a great ensemble, with Fikri being happy to see Oliver Platt back on the big screen.

The handshake thing proved to be a mere fad.
The handshake thing proved to be a mere fad.

We both hope to see Peter Morgan to walk away with Best Adapted Screenplay. It was very well-written. However, the current favorite for this category is Simon Beaufoy’s script for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. ‘Slumdog’ was very well written, but Morgan’s Frost/Nixon was even better and heavier on the dialogue. Fikri was especially impressed by Nixon’s conversation with Frost on the phone. “No matter how many awards or column inches are written about you, or how high the elected office is, it’s still not enough. We still feel like the little man. The loser. They told us we were a hundred times, the smart asses in college, the high ups,” Nixon roared down the line. “If we’re honest for a minute, if we reflect privately, just for a moment, if we allow ourselves a glimpse into that shadowy place we call our soul, isn’t that why we’re here? Now? The two of us. Looking for a way back into the sun. Into the limelight. Back onto the winner’s podium. Because we can feel it slipping away.” Such powerful dialogue, helped further along by Langella’s power, made Fikri’s hair in the back of the neck stand.

Then again, Tony Gilroy’s script for Michael Clayton, which is of the similar nature, did not pick up the Oscar last year (lost to Diablo Cody’s ‘Juno’, of all the things) so we’re feeling a little dubious on that front. It may pick up Best Editing (which Fikri thinks should go to ‘The Dark Knight’, though he’s yet to see ‘Milk’, ‘Slumdog’ or ‘Benjamin Button’). Fazil, for one, would be happy if it was to walk away with the top-prize that night, of becoming the heavyweight champion of the world…

…if not for the under(slum)dog standing in its way.

The first joint review by both Fikri and Fazil. What do you think? Love it or hate it, drop us a line.

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8 thoughts on “Heavyweight – Frost/Nixon

  1. I couldn’t agree with you guys more. Frost/Nixon’s got a far more superior screenplay (adapted) than any of the other movies in that category.

    Slumdog Millionaire is the “Juno” of this year; the movie everyone is in love with; the movie the Academy threw a bunch of nominations at to look cool. Much like last year, I believe the academy is going to look “cool” once again, when it gives Slumdog the Best Picture.

    No doubt, The Dark Knight should take Editing & Sound Mixing and Design. Too bad it wasn’t nominated for Score because James Newton Howard & Hans Zimmer’s music was out of this world!

    Trust me, Milk is just the acting, Benjamin Button is an FX fest, and we all know Slumdog is, well, Slumdog šŸ™‚

    Don’t get me wrong, I love all the movies, and I think they’re great. They’re just great in different ways šŸ™‚

  2. To ajami: Sebenarnya, Fikri dah ada kat sini, tapi tak lama lagi saya akan berangkat ke Korea, lagi setahun lagi kat sana. Fazil mmg ada kat KL ni. šŸ™‚

    To Madebyhand Al: Well, there’s always the underdog story somewhere, somehow. I think in the future, such movies will be considered as the ‘Slumdog’ of 2010, etc. šŸ™‚

    And yeah, I have to say that while I’m not surprised at the omission for Best Picture, I was hoping to see ‘The Dark Knight’ knighted (ho hum) for it’s score. It was simply epic; I still hum it to myself when I’m driving… šŸ™‚

    Fikri

  3. A year before the release I actually saw them filming a scene from this right across the street from my film school in LA – was darn excited coz Ron Howard is one of my favourite directors. (It was the scene where Frost attends his film premiere.) In the end it was a good but unmemorable film – or maybe my expectations were too high?

    Btw, Fikri, I saw your short – I’ll be attending the Astro Kirana thing so I’m going through the finalists now. Well done, mate – lots of good choices in terms of acting and unintrusive but functional cinematography. Can’t say the same for the other shorts I’ve seen so far.

  4. hi. ^^

    I’ve watched Frost/Nixon. Mmm… I like it. And like your review more! :p

    Mesti cakap English ke? ^^ Saya dari Indonesia. Salam kenal.

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