FROST/NIXON

frost

Overall Impression — A boxing match with words and wits, not muscle and brawn.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS

Who’s your main character? — David Frost.

What’s he trying to accomplish? — Be taken seriously as an intelligent interviewer and not just a talk show host by betting Nixon to admit publicly  what he never had before: that he was part of a cover up.

Who’s trying to stop him? — Nixon.

What happens if he fails? — Frost loses both his British and Australian shows (because he’s been spending so much time preparing for the interviews) as well as all of his money which he’s sunk into the production.

THE FOUR ARCHETYPES

Orphan — Frost had a successful US show but lost it, now he’s relegated to doing fluff.  He desperately wants to be a success in the US again.

Wanderer — He gets Nixon to agree to the interviews, and now sets out to get networks and sponsors, as well as try to make sure that the interviews don’t become a puff-piece to elevate Nixon again.

Warrior — After the networks decline to get involved and he loses his meager sponsorship, Frost decides to syndicate the show himself.  He also discovers that Nixon is a skilled speaker and isn’t going to let Frost corner him.

Martyr — Here it gets a little weak.   By this point in the movie, Frost has already stuck his neck out in so many ways — professionally, financially — that there’s very little left for him to martyr.  The closest thing I can find is that he gives up his easy-going air to really buckle down and prepare for the final interview, at last taking the reigns and giving up his dandy-fied lifestyle…at least for a short while.

AND, IN THE END…

There was so much behind-the-scenes drama and gamesmanship behind the Frost/Nixon interviews that, for the most part, the interviews themselves become the least interesting moments of the film.  

The battle David Frost had on his hands was to keep Nixon from rambling on and squandering the agreed upon time.  For three of the four interviews Frost mostly loses the battle.  It’s only during the final interview, the one about Watergate, that the fireworks come.  

So what do we, the audience, get to watch for three interviews?  Nixon rambling on!  It’s integral to the story but doesn’t make for riveting cinema because it didn’t make for riveting television and THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT!  The final battle in act three is — must be — triggered by how light and boring the first 3 interviews are!

The filmmakers work around this admirably by cutting to Frost’s team so we can see their emotional states, but our hero, David Frost, is stuck on camera with Nixon and isn’t able to give voice to that sick feeling he’s got in the pit of his stomach as he sees his life flash before his eyes.

Andy Warhol made an infamous movie called SLEEP which lasted 8 hours and features a man sleeping.  That was the point.  Of course, it’s an oddity more than it is a movie (no hate mail, please!)  

FROST/NIXON is no oddity.  It’s a well-crafted film made by world class filmmakers working at the top of their game, however the core challenge the hero faces in the story is how to keep something from being boring.  Which means you have to show the boring stuff.  Which means you risk boring the audience.  Which, based on current box office results ($4 million worldwide after a month in limited release) seems to be happening.

Be forewarned; writing a movie where the drama is less than dramatic is about as tricky as engaging in wordsmanship with an erratic, devious ex-president.

 

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