Howard’s ‘Nixon’ still holds relevance

josh.snyder

Film: Frost/Nixon

Director: Ron Howard

Producers: Ron Howard,

Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner,

Brian Grazer

Writer: Peter Morgan

Starring: Frank Langella,

Michael Sheen

Runtime: 122 minutes

Rating: R

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Director Ron Howard might be one of the strangest directors in Hollywood’s history. He’s not strange in his choice of subject matter, but strange in that every other film of his is fantastic, worthy of lavish amounts of praise and heaping piles of awards, while the movies that come between those award winners are catastrophes, train-wrecks of films that would even repulse would-be directors straight out of film school. Luckily, his latest, “Frost/Nixon,” happens to fall on the “fantastic” side of the spectrum, offering an intense look into one of the most defining moments of 1970s politics.

Richard Nixon (Langella) has resigned the presidency of the United States of America, becoming the first and only president to do so. And although the charges of fraud are strong against him, he never admits to any wrongdoing. Making things even more infuriating for Americans is the fact that his successor, Gerald Ford, has pardoned him of any crimes he may or may not have committed. Sensing an opportunity of a lifetime, British TV host David Frost (Sheen) sets out to interview the fallen politician. And though Frost sees this as a chance to not only send his career to new heights, while possibly getting a confession of guilt, Nixon sees it as a chance to clear his name. As the interviews loom closer, the two prepare to engage themselves in a battle of wits, in which not only all of America, but the world, will watch with great anticipation.

The strongest selling point of “Frost/Nixon” is the intimate nature of the film. More often than not, historical accounts of famous people often carry a distracting level of distance from the subject, forcing the viewer to try and relate to the situation instead of genuinely sympathizing with them. But there’s no forcing here – viewers are immediately drawn into a world they know little of, and will most likely never get to see. This intimate setting is accomplished by framing the film in a series of flashbacks. However, they’re not from the point of view of Frost or Nixon. Instead Howard has wisely chosen to have the secondary characters recall the events as if they just happened yesterday. It works in the same way as those homicide and forensic shows that permeate cable TV late at night – it gives the events a sense of urgency and timeliness, adding a tremendous amount of impact to the story.

But this strong focus on the intimacy of the moment has a price. The characters aren’t as personable as one might hope. They’re still relatable, but they have a sense about them as if they’re larger than life. Neither Frost or Nixon are people you could envision as being your next door neighbor – you’ll never see these two bringing the trash out to the road, or buying their own groceries. Because of this, the ending of the film lacks that heavy, emotional punch it easily could have.

But what sets “Frost/Nixon” apart from other political films is Howard’s direction. He brings years of experience to the film, never rushing it or plodding through scenes. Everything from set design and costume design is spot on, instantly transporting you back to this particular era of American politics. Each scene is shot in a way in which the characters’ emotions spill over into their surroundings, making them feel like a true part of the setting.

And then there’s Langella, who steals the show as the former president. His portrayal of perhaps our most infamous politician is an embodiment of the quality of this production – he brings every subtle nuance of Nixon’s personality to the big screen in a way that inspires awe, and is worthy of the praise he’s receiving.

“Frost/Nixon” may not be the best film of the year, but it certainly comes close. And this is all thanks to director Ron Howard, who adds another great film to his already well-established career, perhaps his best one ever.