Watergate. It’s been covered in cinema before, most notably in 1995’s Nixon. But Frost/Nixon takes a new angle by focussing on the aftermath, specifically the epic duel between the titular personalities, in which Nixon finally admitted culpability in the Watergate scandal. Based on the stageplay of the same name, Frost/Nixon delves into two tortured personalities and highlights their mutually defining moment.
Such an important moment in American history deserved personnel of the highest calibre, and Frank Langella and Michael Sheen are terrific, charging every scene together with crackling electricity. Langella, Oscar-nominated for the role, produces an extraordinary performance as the castigated President, wizened and wounded by his humiliation but still exuding a real sense of arrogance and superiority over his doubters. It’s a peerless performance, and it’s a real testament to the quality of Michael Sheen that he is never outshone here, particularly in the defining interview sequences. Showcasing both the easy charisma and gritty resolve of Frost was no easy feat, but Sheen manages it with a turn of real star quality. The central duo grab you from the first moment and never let you go until the credits roll, with the interviews fizzling with energy- with both men’s desperation to succeed and prove themselves driving proceedings into the final, somewhat devastating crescendo. First-class support can be found in the forms of the ever-watchable Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt as Frost’s ‘crack investigators’ delving into Nixon’s actions concerning Watergate, and Toby Jones as slippery dealmaker Swifty Lazar. A special mention as well, must go to Kevin Bacon, who turns in an unbelievably intense performance as steely Chief of Staff Jack Brennan.
The film has been criticised for its historical inaccuracies, and for using copious lashings of dramatic licence to create a stronger finale, but if you can forgive this it’s one of the best watches you’ll have had in a very long time. Diverse director Ron Howard has delivered a move that is unbelievably moving and strongly emptive while also retaining a comic effect in at certain moments breaking up the heavy material. It grips like a vice from the first moment, and ends on a quiet moment of truce between two warriors thrown together by one’s ambition and the other’s greed. It’s a masterclass.