Monday, January 26, 2009

Into the eighth circle?

Asked to produce a list of those he despises, Malcolm would include both Tricky Dicky Nixon and David Frost.

He would expect Dante to have consigned both to the eighth circle, the Malebolge, where reside the fraudsters.

So, he is off to view Ron Howard's film of Peter Morgan's script of Frost/Nixon.

More later, perhaps, on the collision of two great vanities:
  • remembering that, in Latin, vanitas implies emptiness, hollowness. a lack of reality;
and wondering if

OAC, in his comment below, refers to a critical review. That review is tallies with Malcolm's now-educated opinion.

Frost/Nixon is certainly not the five-star, whistles-and-bells, thing that one or two reviewers have suggested. Cosmo Landesman, almost predictably (after all, Frost is personality with Sky connections), is among the worst offenders, but only by some neat equivocation:
Never mind Nixon, it’s this rehabilitation of Frost that bothers me. Here is a man who has spent nearly 50 years sucking up to the rich, the famous and the powerful, and now, thanks to this film, he will go down in history as the great inquisitor who got the truth out of Richard Nixon. Rarely has bad history become the basis of such a great film.
What Malcolm saw, however, is a decent, domestic drama, played out in hotel-rooms and offices.

Characterisation is competent, but not incisive.

Michael Sheen conveys the essentially-vapid core of Frost more than adequately. Frost here is precisely what his Cambridge Footlights contemporaries saw and scorned in the man: full of himself and bonhomie, superficial, exploitative, a shallow crowd-pleaser. Even when the whole project is going down the plughole, Frost knows nothing better than string-pulling and tele-begging. Only when Nixon's late-night drunken telephone call rouses him, does this Frost dynamize himself -- and, inevitably, stumble on the McGuffin that unlocks and undoes Nixon in the final interview.

Frank Langella, as Nixon, is a monster: shambling, crude, fleshy, grasping, in decay and decline, trapped beside the San Clemente shore, doomed to formulaic anecdotes at conventions of Texan orthodontists, wanting to return East to rehabilitation and the main event. He is surrounded by pathetic reminders: the presidential seal on his crockery and on the blazers of his household staff. His final collapse is Euripidean: even then, as Zach, our American Cousin, notes, he is incapable of fully voicing repentance, incapable of rising above the subjective, or of much above his personal loss:
I let them down. I let down my friends, I let down my country, and worst of all I let down our system of government, and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government but now they think; 'Oh it's all too corrupt and the rest'. Yeah... I let the American people down. And I'm gonna have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life. My political life is over.
The two closing scenes are instructive. One involves a long lingering exchange of meaningful gaze between the two main characters. Frost is not showing pity here, but finding an element of self-recognition in the defeated, deflated old trickster. Then comes the tawdry little moment of Frost's final visit to Nixon's ironically-named La Casa Pacifica, and the presentation of a gift: a pair of Italian shoes.

Behind the two main characters, things are less adequate. Matthew Macfadyen's version of a younger John Burt is, almost, an Energizer bunny, short of sunglasses and blue flip-flops. This is the barest hint of the rather-louche Birt who haunted the BBC and was intimate with Tony Blair. Here, he is merely a plot device, the other half of Frost's random conversations.

Sam Rockwell is the eager, driven, partisan Jimmy Reston, mainly there to high-light Frost's dilettante approach, and then to locate the McGuffin.

If there is a success here it is Oliver Platt (as Bob Zelnick). His moment is doing a Nixon impersonation.

The non-event is Rebecca Hall as Caroline Cushing, Frost's arm-candy for the period of the drama. She offers little, except a cheeseburger and some well-filled dresses.

Worth a visit, yes. Worth any awards, doubtful. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

yourcousin said...

I remember hearing a review which panned it based upon the fact that Howards has Nixon admitting illegal acts took place when he never did admit such things in real life thereby trying give some sort of redemption when in fact there was none to be had. For whatits worth...

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