Ron Howard's film "Frost / Nixon" reunites the stars from the Broadway and West End plays and earned five Academy Award nominations. The nominations were for "Best Picture," "Best Adapted Screenplay," "Best Editing," "Best Director" for Ron Howard and "Best Actor in a Lead Role" for Frank Langella. While "Frost / Nixon" was shut out during the awards ceremony, the attention paid to the film by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences brought much deserved attention to the historical drama. Many had not heard of the film before its name was mentioned throughout the broadcast of the Academy Awards, but it has since then garnered much more attention. I was quite surprised to see a large poster announcing its impending release at Wal Mart this past weekend.
In "Frost / Nixon," veteran actor Frank Langella brings impeached President Richard Nixon to life and stage actor Michael Sheen serves as his adversary David Frost. The two actors squared off numerous times during its showings in New York and London and their performances benefit from the great amount of practice each actor had while acting in the play. I've always respected Langella's work though he has had his share of missteps. Some may argue that he was amazing as Skeletor in "Masters of the Universe" and a few other entries in his filmography such as "Cutthroat Island" are hardly successes, but Langella is a solid actor. On the other hand, I can only recall seeing Sheen in the "Underworld" series of films and for his role in "Blood Diamond."
Frost is a British talk show host that seems the commercial value of interviewing ousted President Nixon and offers him $600,000 to appear in a series of interviews. At the time, this was unheard of in broadcasting and Frost placed himself in a position to destroy his credibility, but Nixon and his agent Irving Lazar (Toby Jones) agreed to terms with Frost's producer John Birt (Matthew MacFayden) and set the stage for a series of four ninety minute interview sessions. Frost gathers his staff that includes author James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell) and investigator Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) while Nixon confides in his former Chief of Staff Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) for advice. Terms are agreed upon and only one of the four sessions is to be focused on the Watergate scandal that cost Nixon his presidency.
Nixon, of course, was the first president to resign from office after the various scandals surrounding his surveillance, breaking in and other crimes against the Democratic National Committee headquarters at Watergate. Tapes recorded in the White House offices provided information that Nixon had full knowledge of the illegal acts and instead of being impeached; he resigned shortly after news broke of his involvement. Nixon was then given a full pardon by President Ford and the public was less than pleased with Nixon's getting away ‘clean' without a prosecution and without admitting guilt or apologizing. Reston wanted the interviews to be a full assault against Nixon and force him into apologizing or admitting guilt and there were times when Frost and his investigators had a difference of opinion on how to approach the interviews.
For the four interview sessions, Frost and Nixon meet at a private residence. The first day finds Frost going for the throat immediately and wanting to know why Nixon did not burn the White House tapes and the charismatic and intelligent Nixon easily answers the question on this backfires against Frost. The entire first day of interviewing finds Nixon controlling the pace and tone of the interview and this infuriates Frost's staff. The following two days are slightly better, but Frost has not been able to secure the necessary funding to pay the two million dollars for the sessions and even at his birthday party he seems down because the interview is not what he had hoped for and Nixon proved to be more formidable than he expected.
A couple nights before the fourth and final interview session, Nixon calls Frost's hotel room and gives him a pep talk asking Frost for a "no holds barred" interview session and lights a fire under Frost. He allows Reston to do some investigation that Reston had wanted to do earlier and they form a plan of attack for the important questions regarding the final session's topic of Watergate. Before the final day Frost mentions the call and Nixon does not recall it and seems troubled about Frost asking about a phone call. However, the fourth interview session changes the tide and has Frost on the attack and finally getting the upper hand against Nixon. The end result of the interview is that Frost has Nixon admit he had participated in wrong doing and showing remorse for his actions.
Ron Howard has become one of the finest directors in Hollywood and he continues to tackle films that are not the big budget Hollywood blockbusters that have brought negativity towards his colleagues such as Steven Spielberg. "Frost / Nixon" is not the sort of film that brings large box office returns, but it is a film that tells an important story and provides intelligent entertainment to audiences. One of my biggest gripes about Hollywood is that they seem intent on dumbing down storylines and making films more accessible to everybody. Nobody takes chances anymore, but Howard is one of the few filmmakers not afraid to make a movie with a subject matter that appeals to adults and those looking for a history lesson. "Frost / Nixon" earns kudos for just being a movie that can appeal to those wanting to watch something very intelligent and contains no sex, drugs or gunfire.
"Frost / Nixon" is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen. The film looks very good, but the stylistic decision to create a visual feeling of the Seventies does limit its ability to truly impress on Blu-ray. The colors are muted and numerous scenes are given a softer look to bring back memories of what film and television looked like in the era. Detail is still quite good and some of the close-ups of Frank Langella's face showed each mark of age on the veteran actor's face. Colors are muted and the palette is cooler than what the natural colors would be. Skin tones are accurate. Black levels are good and shadow detail holds up during the interview sessions where lighting was not spectacular. The transfer and source materials used are in perfect shape and show no flaws. The look of "Frost / Nixon" was an artistic decision to help set the mood of the time period when the interviews occurred and the film has a historical look. It just doesn't translate to stunning high definition.
The Blu-ray release of "Frost / Nixon" finds Universal's standard inclusion of an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Spanish and French DTS 5.1 mixes are also included as well as subtitles in English SDH, Spanish and French. The era-specific feel of "Frost / Nixon" does not allow the film to particularly shine in regards to the six channel sound mix. It is not intended to be an aural tour de force and for a movie that consists mainly of conversations, "Frost / Nixon" can only be praised for having very clear vocals and the score by Hans Zimmer sounds warm, though it is hardly memorable. This is a technically efficient mix and some minor sounds can be heard in the rear surrounds and there is a little ambience here and there, but this is a reserved and focused soundtrack that never takes away from the actor's performances.
Universal releases the five times Academy Award nominated film with both Profile 1.1 and Profile 2.0 supplements. "Frost / Nixon" contains some BonusView features in the form of Universal's U-Control. The Nixon Chronicles populate sixteen of the twenty chapters and these include historical information and video clips from the actual Frost interviews. The Picture-in-Picture video commentary spreads across the entire film and shows interviews with Ron Howard and the film's cast and crew and shows very good making of footage. The BD-Live functionality contains no title specific features and only the Universal BD-Live Center's promotional trailers and previews are available for reviewing. This may change at some point, but it looks as if the BD-Live inclusions are just a technological way to advertise. I did enjoy the "Inglorious Basterds" preview.
The disc contains a number of other supplements that may be played on any Blu-ray player. Universal's bookmarking My Scenes is included. The Deleted Scenes (30:28) are culled together into one very long supplement instead of being broken out individually. You can jump between the scenes with the remote. There are some very good scenes in here. Some are extended moments, while others were fully removed from the film. It is a shame they were in 4:3 letterboxed video. Discovery Secrets: The People and Places Behind the Story (13:19) is a good little feature that talks about the historical personalities involved in the story and the actual locations that were used in the film. Anecdotes about events in the film are discussed and some decent historical information is packed into this relatively short supplement.
The Making of Frost / Nixon (22:58) is of good length and features Ron Howard, writer Peter Morgan and the stars talking about the film and a good amount of detail about the film is provided here. Opie talks about how the previous presidency and the Iraq War helped form his decision to make "Frost / Nixon" and details about the play are also provided as well as additional details on the actual men in which the film is about. The Real Interview (7:28) is a short vignette showing brief footage from the May 1977 interviews and features Howard and others talking about their thoughts on the interview sessions. The Nixon Library (6:22) is a brief featurette about the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. It is short, but one of the more interesting features. The Feature Commentary with Director Ron Howard is another excellent track from the chatty director. Howard is always wonderful to listen to and does a solid job of mixing stories with details and is never dull. He is one of the better directors out there when it comes to commentary tracks.
I enjoyed "Frost / Nixon" a great deal and felt the story that Ron Howard wanted to direct and the performances of Frank Langella and Michael Sheen were both noteworthy. You don't see too many historical drama released each year and this is one of the finer ones I've seen in the past couple of years. This isn't a movie you would call exciting, but it is engaging and the 123 minutes never feels long. The Blu-ray release won't turn any heads with sound or visuals because of the Seventies themed cinematography and sound design. The supplements are good and the audio commentary and U-Control inclusions are exceptional and requires additional viewings to fully appreciate the value of this release. This was another strong entry in this year's crop of "Best Picture" nominees and I have no problem recommending it.