Monday, February 9, 2009

Frost/Nixon (2008) or How History Can Be Such a Drama Queen

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Okay I was so skeptical about seeing this movie.  I’ve had the screener for a while and I was putting it off for as long as I could.  I mean, sure I was interested…Ron Howard directed it, I am a HUGE follower of the brilliant Frank Langella (who plays Nixon). So of all the “For Your Consideration” Oscar candidates, this was the last best picture nominee that I had a chance of screening. I guess I was just scared of not liking it.

But I love it! I think that this movie could be an underdog and have a shot at winning Best Picture.  Why?  Because it so relevant. 

Living in Chicago, I can’t help but hear about the political climate (as much as I try to drown it out with my West Side Story Soundtrack and Lady Gaga album).  I mean, the next few years are going to be political all over again: with the Bush aftermath, with Obama’s change and with the much publicized corruption of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. This is the time of upheaval, with the gay rights debate, stem cells, Iraq, and a whole can of worms that I don’t really know about because I am not big on politics.

I have this theory that there is nothing new under the sun and we in a sense just go through a cycle of Déjà Vu, except the characters and the setting changes.  I believe strongly that the simmering 90’s parallel the 1920’s the 50’s. Then comes a huge rise in action of Act 2, where the 00’s parallels the 1930’s depression era and the upheaval of the 60’s. Political and socioeconomic factors blah blah blah (I can’t believe I’m droning on about political theory instead of movies).

Enter Frost/Nixon. Which is basically about how entertainer (not a journalist, but an entertainer— sort of like Maury Povich or Jerry Springer) David Frost interviewed unapologetic ex-president Richard Nixon. The movie was written by Peter Morgan—the same guy who wrote that other Oscar favorite, The Queen (2006)—based on his West End Play. David Frost is played by my dork crush, Michael Sheen, who played Tony Blair in The Queen.

My first praise is to the writing in general.  The movie is very well written, surprising in fact—for me anyways—that such a quickly forgotten story can be made so interesting.  I mean, you’d think that only political historians would be intrigued by this subject matter, but me, of all people now find it intriguing.

I guess I consider this movie as in the grand tradition of Shakespeare's Machiavellian plays. There is the power struggle between the ambitious Frost and the powerful Nixon. Both are passionate about their cause:

  • Frost, in a Ryan Seacrest- like way, wants major success, which to him means Playboy mansion access and reserved VIP seats at the hottest LA restaurants. He shall be the only man to interview Nixon in such an in depth manner. In a subconscious sense, he wants to contribute to history.
  • Richard Nixon, we all know, is a power hungry man who was forced to relinquish his power. He remains firmly convinced that his achievements during his Presidency outweigh his small but magnified fuck up at Watergate. He wants to tell his side of the story and he wishes to stand by his decisions. He refuses to hint at any form of apology. He is a man, who was already licked by JFK and any more form of defeat can be unbearable.

These two men risk their reputation, which in their line of job, is an, if not the only, important factor.

They battle wits, seeing who gets to be in top and control. The stakes continue to be raised…as Frost loses his own money and investors.  Meanwhile, Nixon, is gradually unravels into a human being, rather than some scumbag political figure. The frailty of our existence—and the man we elect to Preside over it—steps into the light.

The pacing of the movie, some may find slow. I watched the movie with my mom, who fell asleep but soon became wide awake at the explosive ending: the last interview between Frost and Nixon, their final showdown where only one person can win and only one person can lose—and the result will forever be recorded in history—although in this movie, we can’t help but feel more concerned about how the result will effect the life and the ego of the loser.

In a year of political films such as Milk and W, this one stood out for me, head and shoulders above the rest. It’s relevancy to our present is more subtle, yet many under running themes shed more light into our circumstance. Politics are not so simple as right or wrong, motivation and consequences.  Wheras Milk and W where bio-pics, the main concern in painting a portrait of those iconic figures, Frost/Nixon concerns a dramatic event that echoed the machinations of politics: a power struggle between two parties, the financing for the interview, what can and cannot be revealed to the public.

I don’t believe that one should call this a political movie, but rather, a cinematic experience that happens to concern politics and real life characters. For me, this movie, this movie follows the tradition of Mr.Smith Goes to Washington(1939). The drama concerns a spectacular event that holds up a mirror to America’s political system and how men of power are driven by the same needs as us mortals, and share the same flaws—succumbing to similar temptations.

So what insight did I walk off with from Frost/Nixon? That even our leaders, great or disastrous (ehem, G.W.B.), are also human beings with follies and regret that they shall never admit to because admittance can only erase their accomplishments, making the time invested, heartaches, sacrifices spent in office inconsequential?  That the power of the media, as in Katie Couric’s and Tina Fey’s depiction of Sarah Palin, influences the public’s opinion of our leaders more than the human itself? How power really does corrupt (like duh)?

I guess the movie’s slow moments worked for me because in those moments of boredom I couldn’t help but ponder (so this is what they meant by a thought provoking movie) all the aforementioned thoughts.

Yet personally, what I walked of with, is how to tell a story. How something as seemingly boring as a long ass interview between a toothy British and ugly ex-president whose middle names is Milhous, can contain so much drama. That life, no matter how irrelevant –politics—as it may seem, has more than one dimension, and can hold the dramatic potential for an interesting movie—with the write tools of storytelling of course.

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