12 December 2008

Review: Frost/Nixon

Genre: Drama (Historical Fiction)

One of the much "buzzed about" films this season, Ron Howard's Frost / Nixon fails to truly engage the line it so brazenly and shockingly sets forth in the solemnity of its trailers: "I'm saying that, when the President does it, it's not illegal," a line which surely becomes the entire reason for the film's existence in the first place. While it is true that, like all Ron Howard films, Frost / Nixon is a charming story, full of well-acted vigor and emotion and with a dash of sardonic flair, it is no more than those things, no more than just an actor's piece, a play in the most basic sense of the word; and for that characterization, considering how much potential and how strong a background the film before viewing held, I cannot commend its merits any more than meagrely. Tight sets that fail to move or open up organically under a lack of stricter direction, boxy shots that undermine the expansiveness and the context of the narrative, and flabby introductory writing that attempts to belie a fumbling into action for the film as a whole all only further dampen any appraisal. However, Mr. Langella, as advertised, does give a wonderful performance of Richard M. Nixon, despite the stricture of his filmic bounds; a performance therefore like that of an aged lion, prowling and snarling and raving within his barred cage. Mr. Sheen seems generally disoriented, but then that is not entirely out of the bounds of his character - and in a year with so few good leading performances by men, his resultantly is one of the best (so far). And the screenplay, despite those opening scenes of awkward establishment, rolls around to becoming interesting and dense within proximity of the lion, though, as I've already stated, it fails to ever truly and properly address the implications of its most potent line to the greater context of the film - I guess, one can't win them all. Still, despite its lackings, the film ties up relatively neatly, under the jesting hand of Mr. Howard, who wisely let the film breathe a bit with humor, lest it become too tightly cramped. Too bad he wasn't crafty enough this time, to let loose a little further: Secret Honor (1984) anyone?

Grade: B.

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