25 December 2008


I was unfamiliar with the story of the interviews, and actually, I'm shamefully ignorant of American history as well, so I wasn't really prepared, in a sense, for this movie. But I was absolutely blown away. It's an incredible film, complex, fascinating, thought-provoking, and quite timely and relevant to current politics. 

First off, the acting was absolutely phenomenal. Frank Langella, in particular, was absolutely riveting as Nixon. One of the impressive things about the movie is the way in which it manages to convey a deeply human sense of Nixon, without excusing his behavior at all. He's a lovable old eccentric, yes, but he's also a criminal. 

The pacing of the movie is excellent, as is the blend of gravity and humor. I laughed out loud multiple times (occasionally though, I seemed to be the only one in the theatre who did...), but also found myself on the verge of tears at moments. Emotionally, it was an incredibly gripping film. 

I think that one of the most fascinating aspects of the movie is the way that it reflects on television - how it works, what it does, the role it plays in society. As is pointed out in the movie, tv can do things that an investigative journalist, or even a trial, can't. The movie attributes this ability to the power of the close-up, which is really interesting. In a sense, it's that tv has the power to enshrine a particular moment. The film further remarks that it's a power to simplify and essentialize everything to that given moment, and make it stand for the whole. You can have 20 hours of crap for 10 seconds of profundity. This is compelling, but I wonder what else there is to say about it. The importance of widespread availability, I think - that millions of people are watching - seems also vital to me. And the way in which tv seems to be for everyone, and in a way, for no one more so than for good old Joe Sixpack. The idea that it's ultimately tv that holds politicians accountable for their action is intriguing, and somewhat troubling. 

On the timeliness of the film, I think it's fairly incredible, the way the movie manages to subtly point to these parallels in the situation. Forgive me for being political for a moment, but I would argue that the three things that Frost tells Nixon that the American people want from him - 1. An admission that what he did went beyond error and into wrongdoing, 2. An apology, 3. An admission that he gravely harmed the American people in the process - apply just as much to George W. Bush. And the way the film sets up, in the beginning, the importance of due process and justice to American democracy, and the need to hold Nixon accountable, not only for legal reasons, but also psychic ones, is also, I think, fully applicable to today. One wonders whether Bush - or Obama - will grant full pardons to all the criminals of the Bush administration, and say that rather than investigating the criminal activity of Darth Cheney, America needs to move on. I sure as hell hope not. 

The only weakness of the film, I think - and I don't think I'm giving away too much by discussing it - is the late night phone call that Nixon makes to Frost. Or rather, not the phone call, but its consequences. It's plays a major role in the plot, giving Frost a brief upper hand, but I think that ultimately, it goes too far in that regard, making the final interview seem unfairly weighted. Also, in the very end when it resurfaces, it paints Nixon as a confused and infirm old man, which could easily be used to partially excuse his behavior, or at very least, present him as simply mentally unsound. That's unfortunate, and doesn't, I think, do justice to the subject, or the film itself.

Aside from that one blemish though, it's a phenomenal film. One of the best I've seen this year.

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