Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oscar Profile: Frost/Nixon

I finally got around to seeing Frost/Nixon this week.  It often comes down to the week before Oscar night for me to make time to review those more esoteric, self-important, picture nominees that seem to have been created solely to win Oscars and Frost/Nixon is a perfect example, but I'm pleased to say that it actually exceeded my expectations.  The movie is about as solid a mainstream entertainment as Hollywood is making nowadays and the two central performances breathe new life into this vintage story.  Political corruption is not the big news that it was back in 1977 when the original interviews took place, but Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan do a nice job of building tension around the potent game of one-upsmanship that prompted Richard Nixon to confess his guilt over Watergate on national television.  

The movie is certain to have an added fascination for viewers who lived through the event.  For today's generation the hook will be watching both men as they desperately try to keep their feelings in check, under intense media scrutiny.  The Frost/Nixon interview was a prime early example of the media's increasing influence over the collective consciousness.  Is the movie truly relevant today?  Although uniquely timed to coincide with the end of Bush's tenure as President, it is not a particularly memorable or groundbreaking film.  Just solid, and I will take solid over a lot of the other movies out there.  

The performances -- particularly Frank Langella's, are stellar but one doesn't feel the director expending his heart and soul on this material.  The docudrama approach with cutaways to talking heads of name actors playing real people grows increasingly tiresome and artificial as the movie rolls on.  It is almost as if the filmmakers began to insert these arbitrarily in order to maintain their motif, but they undermine the power of the unfolding story.  

Curiously, the film's biggest virtue: the cinematography by veteran commercial DP Sal Totino has been overlooked.  The film is cleverly shot with a camera that slowly drifts in and out of focus, mirroring the inner states of the two leads as their own focus wavers during the exhausting interview proceedings.  Production design and lighting is all suitably understated.  Technical aspects earn top marks.  Worth a look, but there were better films this year.