So it's quite a proposition for a film to try and replicate the power of this play, which is essentially based on a series of two person interviews, and to be faithful to history but still produce something entertaining.
The story is based on the real events of David Frost managing to gain exclusive interviews with Richard Nixon who was, by then, the ex and pardoned President of the United States. He beat the American networks to the scoop and spent a number of days interviewing the President building up to the final interview on Watergate where he managed to get the President to admit to what he had done and apologise for what he had done to the Presidential office and what he had done to the American people.
However the film covers a bit more than that and looks at the team behind Frost who researched Nixon and his time in office, their relationship with Frost and Frost's battle to raise the money and the resources to make the interviews, and also some more of Richard Nixon himself and what sort of a man he really was.
The film is superb, and both Frank Langella and Michael Sheen are stunning in their roles with Kevin Bacon giving a great performance, mainly in a scene of a mere few minutes. The film builds well and creates a strong relationship between the two leads which makes for a very powerful ending to the interviews and the film, so powerful that it pulls you in and is hugely emotional.
However looking back on the film I found the earlier sections a little unfair to David Frost, and a little formulaic in how it builds the ex-President up to be the evil titan. It almost works too hard to make Frost seem a bumbling fool who is a low grade television chat show host far too far out of his league.
This is perhaps the bit I didn't like the most, and there wasn't really much I didn't like about the film, but the way it portrayed Frost during these scenes had me a little bit tired later on, and when they started revealing his work to raise the money and his hard work behind the scenes, as well just how much of a serious interviewer he was already – it was hinted at with a line by Sheen in the film, but it does seem a little glossed over.
There's something else I've been in two minds about since I saw the film, and that was the realisation by Frost that he has to change and really get into the interview otherwise it's all going to be lost. David Frost himself has revealed that the phone call scene with Richard Nixon never actually happened, and that proves to be the pivotal point in the film, handing Frost on a plate the motivation and opportunity to go after him, once again rather than showing that he might have found that motivation and leverage himself.
The scene, and those immediately thereafter, where Frost's team are harassing him about how badly the interviews were going and how he had to wake up and fix things before the whole project falls down the tubes, are the moments of realisation for me and work just as well if not better.
That said I do appreciate what the phone call scene does for the film and the relationship between the two characters of Nixon and Frost. It also serves to explain something about Nixon himself, that due to medication he was prone to doing things that he often forgot, like phoning people and opening up and ranting.
This was one of the surprises for me in the film, just how well it humanises Richard Nixon and makes you feel empathy for him at the end of the film, and not perhaps for some of the more obvious reasons.
Throughout the film the script and Frank Langella's performance makes Nixon both an imposing and impersonal figure, almost unapproachable and completely lacking in social skills, and yet through that comes an empathy for how the character struggles with what he has become compared to what he once was.
It's perhaps Langella's performance that is the main draw here, and a performance that doesn't really kick into gear until the interviews really get going. He manages to get the verbal and mental sparring going well, the looks and moments between he and Sheen are very tangible and almost electric, but it's when the film gets to that final interview that Langella really comes into his own.
Before this Michael Sheen has had quite a few scenes to shine, and he does. Not only has he managed to get the performance of David Frost captured, but he really injects some strong emotion into the character, particularly without an overuse of words. Some of the scenes where he's struggling to get the money deals together and remain looking positive and excited, or during the argument scene with his team and the following Birthday party, he plays so wonderfully through his physicality.
There's a moment before Langella gives the pinnacle performance of the film where Kevin Bacon steps into his own for a mere few moments and really begins the whole hugely emotional and revealing sequence of the film, and it's here where Langella rules the screen.
I was actually rather surprised come this part of the film, for I really didn't realise that I had been so pulled into the film, for at the moment Langella's Nixon begins to open up and struggles within himself internally in silence, I so felt for him and I was genuinely very emotional, at a few points close to a moist eye or two.
The script, actor and direction have really taken you to the character and ensured that you'll connect with them despite their problems, almost because of their problems, and take you to this moment where you completely understand what the character is feeling and battling with inside, and it affects you.
It wasn't just me feeling the pain of Nixon at this point, the person I'd taken with me felt the same way too, and in the cinema you could hear and feel the tension and emotional connection that the audience felt for Langella's performance of Richard Nixon.
The film looks good too, the costumes are done well, and not overly so, and the sets feel just right for the period and the mood of the film. It doesn't seem to skimp on the small details, taking you to the time of the Watergate events and those afterwards.
It's not just the script and the acting that is superb though, it's also the editing on the film because there never seems to be a lost moment or a scene that feels out of place, every moment and every scene seems to add something to the film and the characters.
I do wonder if this film is so robust and strong because of the time it's spent honing itself on stage with the same writer and same two lead actors, because there have been so many run throughs to find exactly what's right and what works.
It has been suggested that you need to know about the Watergate and Richard Nixon story before the film, however I would suggest even a quick look through a couple of pages on Wikipedia would be enough for the film.
There is a scene where Frost confronts Nixon on some transcribed conversations with people that prove he did know about Watergate beforehand, and these moments were a little hazy for me as I didn't know who they were and how the conversations related to Watergate and the slipping up of Nixon.
However it didn't really matter, for the reactions of those involved and the way the story moved on take you through it, and it's what happens then that's more important than understanding the complex issues and events behind Watergate. That's definitely a different film.
Just one more thing to say, and that's for the strong supporting cast. Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt and Matthew Macfadyen are all good, but it doesn't seem they are particularly stretched except Macfadyen. I have to say that this is perhaps one of his better performances and he doesn't seem like Macfadyen at all, something he does all too often.
Regardless of how it works so well, it does, and the tension and emotional connection to the characters and their combative relationship are at the core of the film, and this comes through with the excellent writing and fantastic performances, which in the case of Langella, Sheen and Bacon are quite honestly stunning.
The story slowly draws you in and it's not until those closing sequences where you realise just how connected you are to the characters and how involved you are in the story, and then the film delivers a huge emotional blow.
A superb slice of history dramatised with a superb script, stunning actors who really know their roles and play their characters perfectly with restrained and emotive performances, and great set design and direction.
Without a doubt Frost/Nixon is a stunning piece of drama that I'd thoroughly recommend to all.