Wednesday, October 15, 2008

London Film Festival Day 1 - FROST/NIXON never convinces

You should marry that woman. She comes from Monaco. They don't pay any taxes there.FROST/NIXON never convinces in its assertion that the 1977 TV interview between the British talk-show host and the disgraced ex-President was a pivotal moment of catharsis for the US public. Indeed, playwright and screen adaptor Peter Morgan (THE QUEEN) diminished his case by pandering to the “all or nothing” school of melodrama. It’s not enough that Nixon is fighting for rehabilitation and Frost is fighting for his reputation as a serious journalist. Nixon must be seen as a man on the psychological edge – making drunken midnight telephone confessions. Frost must be seen a playboy dilettante who stands to lose all his TV shows and his personal fortune if the interview is a failure. Moreover, in a particularly crude narrative choice (whether based in reality or not), Morgan decides to give Frost a third-act montage (so beautifully spoofed in TEAM AMERICA WORLD POLICE) wherein the talk-show host goes from zero knowledge or interest in the mechanics of Nixon’s skulduggery, to uncovering deep truths thanks to a bit of all-night study and black coffee. I also found it implausible that years after the scandal broke; a single document in a public library would be uncovered and force the confession of a President.

Despite all this, the film does get near to an emotional truth. Nixon finally confessed to the cover up because he was tired of lying. Not because of Frost’s new found skill as a crack cross-examiner. The film also gets near to an even more important and significant truth: that Nixon was tremendously insecure; resented the way in which elites bent the rules (notably JFK’s dubious presidential victory); and thought that was simply how you had to play the game. The tragedy is that he was a hard-working and intelligent man who had tremendous insight into Cold War relations but that he made poor decisions because paranoia and a sense of entitlement had trumped his personal morality.

Frankly, I don’t think you needed to artificially inflate the importance of the Frost-Nixon interview; the stakes for David Frost; or the importance of that final shred of evidence (all very Perry Mason). You certainly didn’t need to make some sort of cod psychological link between Frost and Nixon as insecure boys-made-good who’ll never quite be accepted by the establishment. Nixon is the story and when this movie focuses on Nixon it’s brilliant. Frank Langella’s performance is captivating. But frankly, there’s too much dancing around until we get to it.

FROST/NIXON opened London 2008. It opens in the US on December 5th and in Australia on December 26th. It opens in Spain and the UK on January 9th; in Belgium and France on January 14th; in Finland on January 23rd and in the Netherlands on January 29th. It opens on February 6th in Sweden and Norway and on January 12th in Germany, Hungary and Denmark. It opens in Argentina on February 19th.

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