Magazine article The Christian Century


Magazine article The Christian Century


Article excerpt


Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Frank

Langella and Michael Sheen.

Working at the top of his game as both a filmmaker and an actor's director, Ron Howard has converted one of the most intriguing media events of the late 1970s--David Frost's TV interviews with Richard Nixon three years after Nixon resigned as president--into memorable drama.

He's working from a first-rate screenplay by Peter Morgan, an adaptation of Morgan's own play--a success in London's West End and on Broadway with the same actors, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, in the roles of Nixon and Frost, respectively. The play was an intelligent piece of work, but riveting mostly for Langella's dynamic, witty performance.

For the screen, Morgan (whose specialty is constructing scenarios around real-life personalities, like Queen Elizabeth II and Tony Blair in The Queen and Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland) has expanded the material and restructured it to flesh out the characters on the periphery. These include Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt), newspaper editor turned bureau chief at ABC News; John Birt (Matthew Macfadyen), Frost's close friend and producer; Jim Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell), a writer and political science professor obsessed with Nixon's abuses of power, whom Zelnick brings onto Frost's team; Frost's girlfriend, Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall); and especially Nixon's loyal chief of staff, Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon).

In the stage version Brennan's military gruffness and unassailable conservativism--he pronounces Frost's laceless Italian loafers "effeminate"--were caricatured. But Bacon, a superlative character actor, gets under Brennan's skin rather than commenting on him. The other supporting performers are also resourceful, sharp and funny, among them Toby Jones, holding his head forward like a turtle and turning his mouth down in a permanent resolute frown as Nixon's agent, the notorious Swifty Lazar. And Morgan has evened out their roles. In the play Reston, whose dream is for Nixon to get the criminal trial that Gerald Ford's pardon preempted, provides the narration, and his perspective distorts the story. In the movie, almost all of the secondary characters address the camera, so everyone gets to contribute to the recounting of the tale. …

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