Sunday, 25 January 2009

Frost/ Nixon

We've just been to the beautiful Muvesz Mozi cinema up by Nyugati Station to see the Hungarian advance screening of Frost/ Nixon. I have to admit that I was feeling rather cynical about the film, and was actually arguing the case for us giving new Pacino/ De Niro vehicle Righteous Kill a go (I was shouted down because Jenny couldn't face watching a movie with 50 Cent in it.) It struck me that we were going to get a poor imitation of the decade's big media procedural, George Clooney's Goodnight and Good Luck: what we actually saw was considerably more chipper, due largely to the fact that Michael Sheen has given an Austin Powers-esque, erm, sheen to Frost, who always seems to be on the cusp of proclaiming the shagadelic charms of his girlfriend. Frank Langella, coincidentally (perhaps - insert Twilight Zone music here) a major character in Gn & GL, steals the show as the eponymous ex-president, and there's admirable support from Sam Rockwell as Frost's highly-politicised researcher and Matthew MacFadyen as (believe it!) John Birt.

I wasn't enormously sure about the ending, which seems to offer Nixon some sort of recuperation, and Ron Howard does his best - particularly in the first 45 minutes - to muck up a good script with some shockingly unwarranted camera trickery. Clooney was far more restrained with the cinematography in his own period piece, using rapid cutting only to provide intensity to the newsroom situation. Howard employs the device willy nilly - in one scene of fairly relaxed dialogue between Frost and Birt, which lasted no longer than a minute and a half, there must have been over ten different shots. It was like watching the overedited goal highlights on Match of the Day.

Otherwise, though, this really worked. It was suspenseful, which is a real achievement in this case because the film had to do so much work to explain to its audience why both Frost and Nixon had cause to get het up about. On top of that, it did a good job of illustrating the mechanics of television (and, by inferral, movie) production and financing. One came away with the sense of why and how Frost, or Paxman, are television interviewers and you and I are not, and this communication of the nature of a particular kind of professionalism is the mark of some neatly economic storytelling. I think Gn & GL was a better film, but this hit the spot for a Saturday evening.

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