Frost/Nixon: A Delayed 15th Anniversary Review

Frank Langella and Michael Sheen in Frost/Nixon. © 2008 Universal Pictures.

Ron Howard hit another home run with his 2008 adaptation of Peter Morgan’s play, Frost/Nixon, starring Frank Langella and Michael Sheen.

Peter Morgan adapted his play for the screen and one gets a sense of the film playing out like a boxing match. David Frost (Michael Sheen) is on one side of the ring while former President Richard M. Nixon (Frank Langella) is on the other side. Anyway, the headlining interview does not come until rather late in the film. Obviously, we’re not getting all of the 1977 Frost/Nixon interviews but only a few minutes at best. Regardless, it’s as if Frank Langella is the second coming of President Nixon. To say that he earned his Oscar nomination for Best Actor would not be an understatement.

There’s one set of lines during the Frost/Nixon interview that really hits hard in a post-January 6 world:

Richard Nixon: These men, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, I knew their families, I knew them since they were just kids. But you know, politically the pressure on me to let them go, that became overwhelming. So, I did it. I cut off one arm then I cut off the other and I’m not a good butcher. And I have always maintained what they were doing, what we were all doing was not criminal. Look, when you’re in office you gotta do a lot of things sometimes that are not always in the strictest sense of the law, legal, but you do them because they’re in the greater interest of the nation.

David Frost: Alright wait, wait just so I understand correctly, are you really saying that in certain situations the President can decide whether it’s in the best interest of the nation and then do something illegal…

Richard Nixon: I’m saying that when the President does it, that means it’s *not* illegal!

David Frost: I’m sorry?

Sir David Frost admired the way that Frost took care of the project. Of course, Ron Howard approached the film with the second Bush Administration in mind. Nobody could have ever predicted what would come with the Trump administration, especially the seditious act of January 6, 2021. But in as much as Trump wanted to hold onto the presidency and defy the law, Nixon was a very different case altogether.

Visually speaking, this film really looks like a 1970s film. Obviously, the costume design and hair/makeup plays a tremendous role. Similarly, Salvatore Totino’s cinematography adds to the 1970s vibe. Totino uses the lighting–or anti-lighting–in a way that benefits the film. Honestly, it almost feels like it has a documentary approach with how the audience is involved in the film. It’s amazing just how much care and attention goes into recreating the 1970s for the film. How Michael Corenblith did not get an Oscar nomination for his production design is beyond me.

Interestingly, Langella chose to stay in character for much of the entire film. Imagine how isolating that much of been when he wasn’t needed on set! But anyway, it’s this sort of approach that worked in landing his aforementioned Oscar nomination. There’s a universe where the Oscar nomination goes to Warren Beatty but he declined the role. I’m not so sure that it’s the same film with Beatty.

Next to Langella’s Oscar nomination, the film received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Film Editing. Again, all the nominations were well deserved. Ron Howard just knows how to make a film, let alone an entertaining film.

This film is certainly not setting out to change anyone’s opinion of the late Nixon, who died in April 1994. Meanwhile, it isn’t without its own share of controversy as the script takes some dramatic licenses. The moment where a drunken Nixon called up Frost…did not happen in real life. Ron Howard admits as much in his audio commentary. Say what you will about changes made during the interviews and behind the scenes themselves but other aspects that the film gets wrong is just inexcusable. One, Caroline Cushing Graham (Rebecca Hall) is on record saying that she and Frost had dated for five years prior. Two, Diane Sawyer (Kate Jennings Grant) discussed Jack Brennan’s (Kevin Bacon) portrayal in the film, without actually seeing the film. The film presents Sawyer on scene for the interviews and that’s a mistake.

Frost/Nixon may have played one way upon its initial release in 2008 but it certainly plays differently in a post-January 6 world.

DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
CAST: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones, Matthew Macfadyen, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell

Universal Pictures released Frost/Nixon in theaters on December 5, 2008. Grade: 4/5

Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Buttondown.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.