Frost/Nixon (UK - BD)
Our Marcus ponders... If a DVD reviewer does it, does that make it legal as well?
British journalist/TV presenter David Frost, (Michael Sheen), whose career is on the rise and ex US President, Richard Nixon (Frank Langella), whose controversial resignation from his presidency has left him in the political wilderness, come together for a series of recorded interviews that could make or break both of them.
Pinning everything he has, and even what he doesn’t have, on getting this interview together, David Frost, aided by his team of Nixon experts, sets about giving the ex-President the trial that he never had and giving the world the closure they needed on his shady acts.
After first seeing Frost/Nixon during its cinematic run, this new Ron Howard movie has a high standing in my movies of year so far and watching it again on Blu-ray, has solidified its placing in the best of 2009’s first five months. Surprisingly, Ron Howard has directed one hell of a well structured, well paced and effective movie. I say surprisingly because even though I like a lot of Mr Howard's work to date, I find him a little middle of the road and very good at making movies that I only really enjoy a lot once, followed by more underwhelming repeat viewings.
For me, Ron Howard totally delivers the goods with this one. The coming together of two strong personalities with all of the stakes set up effectively, the odds stacked up against the underdog, the righteous intentions of those around him, the depiction of Nixon as a proud man externally arrogant but internally struggling to carry the weight of his actions around his neck. It all plays out so wonderfully and quite surprisingly almost within the realms of a sports-movie set up. Seriously, once the interviews kick off this feels like a championship boxing match. It starts safe and slow with the champ owning the ring, we get the advisers giving their thoughts from the side lines, spurring their fighters on for the next round and it just keeps building and building until we get to that final interview.
A big aid to this latest Howard project is his cast. The first stand out for me is Michael Sheen, who is proving to be a performer who constantly impresses me. After his effective performance as Tony Blair in The Queen, much of his TV work and making even the third Underworld movie more watchable than it deserved to be. Add to that Sam Rockwell, who once again is golden in a fairly small role, making all of his scenes so much more because of his Rockwell-awesomeness and an equally as small but still as effective Kevin Bacon performance, who makes so much out of what could be a fairly throw away role.
However, emerging as the most memorable, and more than worthy of the Oscar nod, is Frank Langella. It’s not immediately obvious, but how the movie plays out in its last act and how Langella responds to these events is what I like so much about this performance. Whether or not he’s playing a good Nixon doesn’t really concern me. I don’t have enough of a personal reference point of the real Nixon to tell the difference between the real man and performances from other actors from over the years, as well as the countless parodies. Langella sounds and seems enough like him for it to be effective for me, but what he really brings to the role is a sense of humanity. His little quirks are fantastic to watch, his presence as an ex-president feels real and his internal struggles are portrayed so wonderfully in the closing scenes that you can’t help but feel for the character, which is another element that really shows off Ron Howard’s fine work here.
When this all comes to a head, I’m so locked into the two characters ongoing confrontation that I consider the final interview totally satisfying. Ron Howard knows what his money shot is in this story and he literally just leaves the camera on his two leads with the strength of their conversation being the only sound we need. The internal performances by both Sheen and Langella make this even more effective and when the tension is finally released and everyone gets to take a breath, you feel the importance of the entire situation and know this is more than just a TV star making it big by riding on the back of a big political story. You feel the importance of this kind of admission from a President and even more brilliantly you feel that these mistakes were not just made by the icon history has made him but simply from a man. This is definitely Ron Howard’s best movie to date, even if it’s not my favourite (that would be Nightshift), and even though it’s sandwiched between those silly Dan Brown thrillers it’s enough for me to remain intrigued about where he goes next.
Ron Howard manages to capture a very authentic 1970s look here and it's all presented well in this HD transfer. Colours are bold and vibrant and the lighting is incredibly effective throughout.
Countering that, whatever isn’t bathed in the well placed lighting can look a little murky and there are some instances where grain can be a little too noticeable. Bizarrely in the second interview it dances around Frosts face in a few shots but none of this is really enough to take away from is a generally great transfer.
Skin textures on both Frost and Nixon are great with pores, stubble and wrinkles on their skin very detailed and clear. Many of the locations look great, which again is down to the very precise lighting and the closing scene in the bright sunshine really glows off the screen and shows off the HD transfer at its best.
Unsurprisingly this is all a bit dialogue driven, so it’s not exactly a 5.1 show off movie. Dialogue is always clear and strong and sits nicely at the front of the mix. As I briefly mentioned before, the moments of near silence in the final interview are also very effective. The silence and the breaking of it with the to and fro of conversation works great for the movie's impact and is captured very well in this DTS-HD Master Audio track.
The score occasionally rouses in the rears, but it’s a rare occurrence, and beside one very cool blown bulb in the rear right speaker, surrounds are barely used for much in the way of atmospherics. This is a mix that does what it needs to do and what it does it does very well.
After trawling through The Da Vinci Code’s features recently, I should be sick to death of Ron Howard’s voice, but once again he provides a thoroughly engaging commentary track. Starting with his knowledge of Nixon history, moving through the story of the stage play and ending up talking about the production and some more technical aspects, Howard sounds as if he had a genuine passion for his work here.
There’s a nice splattering of deleted scenes (30:28 SD), which give us a few extension on things we’ve seen in the movie as well as a few scenes that really needed the chop as the movie's pacing would have suffered with their inclusion.
‘Discovering Secrets: The People and Place behind the Story’ (13:19 HD) is a nice little featurette that has an interview with Sir David Frost himself and a lot of details on how many of the locations in the movie are the actual places in which the real events happened.
‘The Making of Frost/Nixon’ (22:58 HD) is quite a typical outing but is still filled with some good nuggets of information. Screenwriter Peter Morgan mentions how he intentionally structured the story as a ‘boxing match with words’, Frank Langella reveals how he stayed in character for the entire shoot, with cast and crew referring to him as ‘Mr President’, and there’s some brief, but enjoyable background to all of the main characters in the movie.
‘The Real Interview’ (07:28 HD) takes a far too brief look at the actual face-off from 1977. It’s essentially a look at some of the key moments and comparing them to their adaptation in the movie, but it’s still good to have these elements included, even if a slightly longer runtime would have been welcome.
‘The Nixon Library’ (0 6:22 HD) covers the Nixon foundations work in keeping the Nixon history alive in museums and tourist attractions and how their input in the movies production helped out.
Last up is U-Control, which is split into two areas. 'The Nixon Chronicles' is a fine little fact track, which sometimes includes some old footage as well. As dates, times, and historical events that the movie refers to and it’s a good little companion piece overall. The Picture in Picture option is a little less fun. B-Roll footage, interviews and extensions on the featurettes I’ve already been watching didn’t really bring to much more to the table.
Frost/Nixon is a movie that I really enjoyed. It pulled me in with its characters, and gave me a nice bit of insight into this era of their lives (I had no idea Sir David Frost was such a smooth pimp of love). Ron Howard also manages to load the right amount of weight into the events, with a thoroughly satisfying pay-off to boot.
Audio and video are both good as are the extras, even if more on the stage play and the actual interview would have been welcome.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 18th May 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, The Nixon Chronicles, Discovering Secrets, U-Control PiP, The Making of Frost Nixon, The Real Interview, The Nixon Library, Deleted Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon
Length: 121 minutes
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