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'Frost/Nixon' Fascinating Look Back

Feb. 19, 2009 – "Frost/Nixon" begins as a fascinating inside look at the TV news business and then tightens into a spellbinding thriller," says critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times.
"Strange," Ebert says, "how a man once so reviled has gained stature in the memory. How we cheered when Richard M. Nixon (Frank Langella) resigned the presidency! How dramatic it was when David Frost (Michael Sheen) cornered him on TV and presided over the humiliating confession that he had stonewalled for three years."
Alas, it seems that George W. Bush's presidency may have given the old "I am not a crook," added stature "How much more intelligent, thoughtful and, well, presidential Nixon now seems," Ebert says, "compared to the occupant of the office from 2001 to 2009."
This is not a lone observation. David Denby in the New Yorker, says,"it seems a media coup may have been confused with a cleansing act that forever chastened the Presidency. It was anything but that: after all twenty-four years later, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney entered the White House."
So much for politics. The movie, up for three Oscars – best picture, Ron Howard, best director and Frank Langella, best actor – gets mostly a thumbs up from the critics.
The screenplay by Peter Morgan is based on his award-winning London and Broadway play, which also starred Langella and Sheen.
Ebert says, "What Morgan suggests is that even while Nixon was out-fencing Frost, two things were going on deep within his mind: (1) a need to confess, which may have been his buried reason for agreeing to the interviews in the first place, and (2) identification with Frost, and even sympathy for him."
Frost/Nixon not only re-creates the on-air interview, but the weeks of around-the-world, behind-the-scenes maneuvering between the two men and their camps as negotiations were struck, deals were made and secrets revealed, says Yahoo Movies. Howard winds actual footage of the interviews into the film, giving it more depth.
For those of us who may not remember the interviews, Frost was at a low point in his career, when he took on Nixon. "He was scorned at the time for even presuming to interview Nixon. He won the interview for two reasons: He paid the ex-president $600,000 from mostly his own money, and he was viewed by Nixon and his advisers as a lightweight pushover," Ebert says.
Denby wonders at the significance of the interviews in 2009. "The movie," he says, "offers considerable insight into the Nixon mystery….it is fully absorbing, even, when Nixon falls into a drunken, resentful rage, exciting, but I can't escape the feeling that it carries an aura of momentousness that isn't warranted by the events."
Alex Markerson in E! Reviews, takes a dimmer view, calling it a "Frequently tepid post-Watergate docudrama that's buoyed by two knockout performances."
And for those of us who do remember the interviews, it will seem great fun to go back to the good old days when all we had to deal with was an unpleasant crook in the oval office.
The movie starts Thursday at Market Square East. It runs 122 minutes and is rated R for language.

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