Who’s In It: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones, Matthew Macfadyen, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell
The Basics: Back in 1977, three years after he resigned the Presidency in disgrace for his role in the Watergate cover-up, Richard Nixon was paid $600,000 by British talk show host David Frost for a series of televised interviews. Frost was hoping to finally get Nixon to admit his crimes and apologize to America—and in the process boost his own fame for arranging it all—and Nixon was hoping to re-earn the public’s love. Frost did get more famous. Nixon didn't get more adored.
What’s The Deal: It’s December. That means the Oscar-grubbing movies are here. This is definitely one of them, if only for Frank Langella re-creating his Tony-winning Richard Nixon on screen. It won’t be for Ron Howard’s frequently annoying direction (more on that in a second). And really, bothersome awards-gimme-grime all over it or not, movies like this are good for you to watch because chances are you aren’t old enough to remember the actual events. (I was 12 when this stuff happened and wasn’t exactly paying attention to anything that wasn’t Star Wars.) Then you can seem smarter when the subject comes up later. “Oh yes, the Frost/Nixon interviews were a pivotal moment in late '70s media, as they predicted the now-pervasive trend of celebrity image rehabilitation,” you can say. Your parents will feel good about having helped pay for college.
Back To That Ron Howard Problem: It sucks when a movie gives you plot details visually and then feels the need, a few moments later, to tell you in explicit detail exactly what it just showed you. This happens more than once here. Example: Nixon is evasive and sparring with Frost on camera. Then someone says later, to Frost, “He was playing cat-and-mouse with you!” This is because YOU ARE A MORON WHO CAN’T FOLLOW A MOVIE UNLESS IT TELLS YOU AGAIN AND AGAIN WHAT IT’S ABOUT. Thanks for reminding me of that, Ron Howard. Glad your time on Happy Days being mentored by Garry Marshall taught you how to direct stuff.
Why You Should See It Anyway: Just because I get annoyed by pedestrian—I know, critic word, sorry—direction doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining and timely. The disturbing Nixon quote about how if the President does something then it's legal is a nice send-off to the guy Oliver Stone just made a movie about. And Frank Langella really is pretty darn great. He doesn’t go for the weird Thandie-Newton-as-Condi-Rice physical mimicry but he’s got that broken old man thing down perfectly.