I’m paraphrasing a line from Frost/Nixon, but that line can accurately describe the beginning and end of Nixon’s presidency. Many people, including Nixon himself, felt he lost the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy because of the first televised presidential debate in history.
JFK was the more telegenic of the two and ultimately, and fatefully, won the election. At the end of his only televised interview (with British talk show host David Frost) after his fall from grace, the camera lingers on a close-up of the once-most powerful man in the world, now defeated, now humanized, confessing his culpability in the Watergate scandal. An ambitious man, who like many before and after him, was corrupted by power.
Close-up can also describe director Ron Howard’s attention to character detail. The way he lets us into the characters’ heads makes Frost/Nixon his most fully emotionally realized film. You can feel the hunger and desperation of Michael Sheen’s Frost and the sadness and self-righteousness of Frank Langella’s Nixon.
More than just a historical, political drama, Frost/Nixon is a genuine suspense film. You don’t always need a homicidal maniac chasing half-naked coeds to generate suspense. The mind games and wordplay make these series of interviews a high stakes game of political chess.
Who can maneuver and manipulate the best to win this game? You can see the movie and judge for yourself, but I have to say that Frost/Nixon itself is a winner and can say checkmate.
Frost/Nixon is currently in theaters.