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Frost/Nixon (2008)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/21/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/21/2009

When someone goes through the trouble of making a period piece or a docu-drama, you would assume that they are going to recreate a "big" event -- something with huge spectacle and action. Perhaps it could be a war scene, or a famous trial. But, how about a movie with two men talking? What is this, My Dinner with Andre? The premise of Frost/Nixon may sound a bit static at first, but the film chronicles one of the most important interviews of the modern era and shows that the story behind the story can be just as interesting.

Frost/Nixon opens in 1974, as President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) is resigning from office, follows years of scandal and impeachment proceedings. Watching the resignation speech is talk-show host David Frost (Michael Sheen), who is currently working on a show in Australia. Frost has been in and out of the limelight for years, having had shows in the U.S. and Britain, and he sees Nixon as an opportunity to be a star again. Frost has his agent, John Birt (Matthew Macfadyen) contact Nixon about an interview, and when a fee (a record-setting fee) is offered, Nixon agrees. Frost is surprised and thrilled by this, so he brings radio host Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) and political author and UNC grad James Reston (Sam Rockwell) on board to help him strategize for the interview. However, Frost runs into trouble selling the interview, as none of the networks are interested in seeing someone like him speak with a major political figure. Frost moves ahead anyway, and finds the means to broadcast. While this jet-setting playboy was able to conquer that obstacle, he's not ready for the fact that Nixon is very intelligent and confident man who is not ready to tell all of his secrets.

While Frost/Nixon isn't a perfect film (more on that in a moment), it is the perfect example of what a docu-drama should be. The script by Peter Morgan, based on his play of the same name, takes a well-documented event (the televised interviews were watched by millions) takes us behind the scenes. Here we have two figures who were very well-known at the time. One was a disgraced President who had done what no other President, before or since, had done -- resign from The White House. His public persecution was well-documented and everyone in the country had an opinion about him. The other was a talk-show host who was known for his dapper looks and his love of the entertainment industry. (He was producing a movie while planning for the interviews.) (The movie makes him seem like Austin Powers at times.)

The movie takes us inside their worlds and gives us a glimpse at what each was doing and thinking as they prepared for the interviews. The most notable aspect here is that both Frost and Nixon seemed to focused primarily on money. Nixon wants as much money as possible for the interview and Frost is taken with the possible ratings for the special. (When Nixon and Frost first meet, Nixon is very cordial, but he does ask Frost for a check.) While Nixon is concerned with how much time will be spent on Watergate, Frost is content to party with his new girlfriend (Rebecca Hall), while Birt, Zelnick, and Reston do all of the work. The movie portrays Frost as confident and self-assured, while Nixon is old, stooped, and grouchy -- that is, until the debates start. Then the tables are turned and suddenly Frost is like a deer caught in the headlights.

Director Ron Howard has tackled true stories before (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man), but few have offered less action than Frost/Nixon. However, the movie never feels stale or boring, as Howard mixes in shooting styles such as moving camera or handheld camera to keep things fresh. He also uses cutaways to "confessions" by Zelnick, Reston and others to shake things up. The pacing is good, as the movie is basically split into two parts -- before and during the interview -- and I was surprised how quickly the film got to the actual interview. However, the film does drag in some spots. Nixon has at least two long rants (one being a late-night phone call to Frost) which go on and on, and unless you're a political scholar, it's very easy to zone out during these speeches.

Again, the idea of Frost/Nixon may sound boring at first, but this is a top-shelf film from one of Hollywood's best filmmakers. The acting is impeccable, and while we never forget that we aren't watching the real people, Langella and Sheen make the parts their own. Educational and entertaining, there's no debate that Frost/Nixon is a winner.

Frost/Nixon questions laceless shoes on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain or defects from the source material, save for the cutaway interviews, where the grain is obviously intentional. The colors look very good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good (note the skin tones) and the picture's depth is notable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. On the whole, this is a quiet film, but the all-important dialogue is always audible and intelligible. The crowd scenes do provide some nice stereo and surround sound effects, and there's one moment in particular when Nixon arrives for the first interview, where the crowd noise from the rear speakers is very nicely detailed.

The Frost/Nixon Blu-ray Disc contains a nice set of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Ron Howard. The Disc contains 12 DELETED SCENES which run about 30 minutes. Most of these show events prior to the interview in greater detail, such as Nixon's resignation address and his farewell speech. "Discovering Secrets: The People and Places Behind the Story" (13 minutes) contains comments from Sir David Frost. From there, Howard discusses the use of real-life locations and artifacts from the real-life interviews, such as La Casa Pacifica and the Smith House (and we also hear from the real Smiths!). "The Making of Frost/Nixon" (23 minutes) examines the cast and characters (with comments from the actors), the costumes, the production design, and the film's style. These subject headings are filled with on-set footage and comments from the filmmakers. "The Real Interview" (7 minutes) contains excerpts from the real interviews along with comments from Howard, Langella, and others. "The Nixon Library" (6 minutes) offers a tour of the museum. The Disc contains two "U-Control" features -- "The Nixon Chronicles" offers real-life footage and details of the events depicted in the film, while "Picture-in-Picture" provides cast & filmmaker comments, on-set footage, and other "making of" info.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long