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Ron Howard’s Done With FROST/NIXON And We’ve Got A Review!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Ron Howard is a machine. I am always amazed by these guys who can move from one film to another without pause, and Howard stays crazy busy. FROST/NIXON was a great play, and I thought the script adaptation was very strong. It all comes down to how well Howard co-ordinates these performances and how he’s able to turn this into a cinematic experience as opposed to just a stage piece.

To the Pseudonym whom it may concern, Ron Howard screened his new movie FROST/NIXON last night for Leonard Maltin's Film Symposium class at USC, followed by a lengthy Q&A. I've seen some earlier opinions on the movie on this site, so I thought I'd weigh in with mine. First of all, I believe what we saw was the finished film. Howard said during the Q&A that the movie's release date has been pushed back to December for prime awards consideration, but the film is totally finished, music and all. We were, according to Ronnie, the first audience to see this completed version. While the word from earlier screenings, my knowledge of the historical material, and the hit or miss track record of the director had my expectations pretty low, the completed film is a knock out. Earlier complaints about unsure pacing and questionable structure seem to have been taken to heart, as this final cut flows with a steady hand, and the structure (which mixes the lead up and behind the scenes of the titular interviews, the interviews themselves, and brief insight provided by "hindsight" documentary style interviews with the supporting cast) never seems anything but natural and effective. Howard and screenwriter/playwright Peter Morgan have taken material of dubious cinematic potential and turned in something resembling the "intellectual ROCKY" that Morgan initially pitched to David Frost when conceiving the original play. This film undoubtedly marks a return to form for little Ronnie Howard, who is at his best a middle-class man's Spielberg (FROST/NIXON, APOLLO 13), at his worst a studio hack (DaVinci Code), but the movie would be nothing without the two lead performances from Michael Sheen (David Frost) and Frank Langella (Richard Nixon). As we learned in Ronnie's Q&A, the studio pushed to replace these two actors, the stars of the West End/Broadway play, with big name stars, but Howard and Brian Grazer were able to bring them to their senses and keep the original bill intact. This is the best decision Howard could have made in the entire production. Sheen, having lived in this roll for months, effortlessly inhabits the playboy/talk show host/sometime journalist David Frost, a man who has been called a great ambition and a questionable talent. He underlines Frost's smarmy, arrogant charisma with a great drive and humanity, and we believe his character as he transforms over the course of his dealings with Nixon. Langella's Nixon is not Jamie Foxx's Ray Charles, a spitting image of the man in appearance and voice. Frank Langella does not look like Nixon and scarcely sounds like Nixon, but plays the character of Nixon like the old master that he is. When we meet him he is already a broken man, shattered by the shame of the Watergate scandal. On the outside, he is still the politician who smiled and displayed the "victory" sign on his disgraceful exit from the White House, but behind closed doors he suffers immensely with his own self image. Langella understands this man, what he has been through and what he desires, and absolutely owns every scene that he is in. It's a powerful, often heartbreaking performance, as Nixon the man tries desperately to escape from beneath Nixon the villain. He makes the 70's icon of deceit utterly human, and it gives the movie all the credibility it needs. When Langella and Sheen interact, this movie is a powerhouse of Hollywood cinema. The interviews are electric; the shifts in power almost playing like suspenseful action scenes. The emotional centerpiece of the film, a (sadly totally fictional) late night phone call from the President to his "opponent" is a near instant classic. The movie's flaw comes in the supporting cast. Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, and Oliver Platt play their rolls well, especially Rockwell as a zealous anti-Nixon researcher on Frost's team, fleshing out the story and providing quite a few generally funny moments. However, as well known as Bacon and Rockwell are, they have a tendency to draw you out of the reality created by casting semi-anonymous character actors in the starring rolls. This is mostly a problem when Howard films them in documentary-style interviews, which aren't quite convincing given these actors' high profile. This is not a major complaint, as all the actors still bring quite a bit to the film as a whole. When the Q&A began, Leonard Maltin, who always refrains from letting his opinions slip into these proceedings, could not help but tell Ronnie that he had made "a great film," and I have to concur. It is every bit the strong "adult entertainment" Howard said he set out to make. Universal is holding this movie back until December for a reason, and come Oscar time I expect a few nominations, for Sheen and Langella at the least. It probably won't be a Best Picture heavyweight, but it is a tremendous small-scale entertainment. As a side note probably of interest to the readers, Ronnie substantiated recent rumors that he and his collaborators are hard at work trying to bring an Arrested Development movie to fruition. This is good news for all of the world. With Love, Gordon Shumway
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