It’s that time of year again. The political commercials are flooding the airwaves and the debates are endless. What a perfect time to look back at one of the best debates ever, and one of the debaters wasn’t even a presidential nominee. This is Frost/Nixon.
Original date of publication, March 24, 2009. The Slate
There is a scene near the end of “Frost/Nixon” where former Pres. Nixon talks to David Frost about liking people and being liked; “That… facility you have with people. That lightness. That charm. I don’t have it. Never have. Makes you wonder why I chose a life which hinged on being liked.”
I also wondered why he chose that life. Nixon probably thought that if he was re-elected to the presidency then people would still like him, which brought about actions to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters. This never crossed Nixon’s mind as being wrong because doing something illegal in the interest of the country, “means it’s not illegal.”
Shown as part of Shippensburg University’s spring film series, best picture nominee “Frost/Nixon” shows what happened behind the scenes of the groundbreaking series of interviews between Pres. Nixon and talk show host Frost. What Frost, and the audience, wanted to know is why did Nixon do what he did, and how could he justify his actions?
Three months after his resignation, Nixon is told by talent agent and deal-maker Irving “Swifty” Lazar that he has been offered $500,000 from Frost for an exclusive interview with him. “Tricky Dick” manages to get $600,000 and Frost gets another shot at fame in America — Frost had an Emmy-winning show in the early ’70s — much to the dismay of his producer John Bird.
Three years later the interviews are set to take place. The interviews are to be broken up into four parts at 90 minutes each, with one segment dedicated solely to Watergate. Nixon’s chief-of-staff Jack Brennan — played stiffly by Kevin Bacon — wants the Watergate segment to include everything bad about the president, which would steer away from the Watergate issue.
When Nixon’s limo arrives at the Smith house — the place where the interviews were going to be recorded — the showdown that we had been anticipating begins. There is no going back for Frost, Nixon or us.
If for nothing else, just watch the interview scenes in the movie. There is an energy that slowly builds up to the final interview that it’s hard to resist. I stopped taking notes because I couldn’t stop staring at the screen. These scenes will go down in movie history because they are so thrilling and real that you feel like you are watching it as if you were back in 1977.
The flow of these scenes quickly builds tension until someone explodes. When Nixon said, “I’m saying that when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal,” I think I stopped breathing because I was so taken back by it. Granted it was the second time I had seen the movie, that line affected me just as strongly as it had the first time I saw it. There is a quick break after that line is said and then the interview continued, which allows for Frost and Nixon, and us, to regain our composure and breathe again. We never expected the interviews to get so intense so that minute or two to settle down was absolutely necessary.
After I saw the movie I decided to YouTube the actual interviews and what I saw surprised me. Nixon seemed to be more casual and not as aggressive as actor Frank Langella made him out to be, but who cares? If there wasn’t as much excitement as Langella brought to Nixon then it wouldn’t have worked for the big screen.
“Frost/Nixon” was originally a play that opened in London with Michael Sheen and Langella as Frost and Nixon respectively — who reprised their roles on Broadway and for the film. It would have been really interesting to see this on stage because I wonder if it would have been just as exciting. Two people talking for about two hours must have been pretty spectacular in order for it to be a success. There are no elements of theatrics here, making it seem like an entirely original premise.
Adapting his play for the big screen, Peter Morgan has outdone himself yet again. Following similarities to his other films “The Last King of Scotland” and “The Queen” — what is probably the best film of the decade — Morgan shows an extremely powerful person’s actions being questioned by somebody. He effortlessly creates tension between two people, and yet he finds a way for them to relate by the end. Morgan is one of few writers to bring real life situations and make them more approachable to a wide audience.
I had recently watched “W,” the film about former Pres. George W. Bush and while it was almost sympathetic to him, it made me question about whether he truly was a good person and much like Nixon, I think he was. It wasn’t until I saw “Frost/Nixon” that I saw a grave connection between the two: Were these people trying to do good for the country, even though it might have been wrong? Yes.
It will probably be only a matter of time when an interview session like between Frost and Nixon will happen with Pres. Bush. The only difference is that Bush probably isn’t as vain as Nixon and no one would be as aggressive at interviewing Bush as Frost was with Nixon.
Would an interview with Bush be as successful as the Nixon interviews? Probably. Considering Bush was hated by more people than Nixon and served 8 years and not 4 ½, Bush would have a lot more to talk about and even more issues to confront.
“Frost/Nixon” is told as a fast paced thriller, building up to an exciting climax during the fourth interview. It is an electric piece of filmmaking that will make you sweat almost as much as Nixon does.