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Cinema in Focus: ‘Frost/Nixon’

In the days after Nixon's resignation and pardon, the nation needed closure, and TV host David Frost provided it. This film is an authentic representation of the historic event.

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

Only one president in U.S. history has resigned. It occurred on Aug. 9, 1974, when Richard Nixon, with no admission of guilt and an immediate pardon by the next president, defiantly raised his arms in victory and left the White House.

The lack of closure or accountability set the stage for a taped interview by David Frost (Michael Sheen) of former President Nixon (Frank Langella), which provided both. Based on an award-winning play by Peter Morgan and directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind), Frost/Nixon tells the larger story of this televised event.

Taking us back in time to the 1970s, Frost is losing his career. Although he understands the medium of television, his reputation as a “talk-show host” is waning when he becomes obsessed with interviewing Nixon.

Nixon, having been forced out of office, wants the opportunity to reclaim his reputation and get back into politics. Their mutual need brings them together in a risky enterprise that is going to cost one of them his future. It is this challenge that motivates and stresses both men.

The interview is easily under Nixon’s control until the final taping. Having contractually agreed to keep Watergate questions to only one fourth of the conversation, Frost saves the topic to the end.

Panicked, he turns to his investigators, James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell) and Oliver Platt (Bob Zelnick).

When they provide him with a yet-unpublished conversation between Nixon and his private lawyer that clearly shows him to be a part of the cover-up of the Watergate break-in, Frost adeptly uses the information to break through the protective armor of the former president. It is then that Nixon confesses his crime and expresses regret to the American people. It is a moment of healing both for Nixon and our nation.

Confession is taking the opportunity to admit the truth about ourselves and our behaviors so that we no longer have to hide from others. Nixon expresses this desire to confess during a break in the taping. His aide, Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), urges him to consider the consequences of such an act, but it is clear that Nixon’s troubled soul requires it.

Frost/Nixon presents Nixon as a troubled soul who felt he was fighting everyone around him, including the media. The isolation it caused in Nixon’s life and his resulting actions are better understood because of this film and the interviews of Frost so brilliantly portrayed.


» Does this film help you understand why Richard Nixon behaved as he did? Why or why not?

» The identification Nixon has with David Frost creates in him a willingness to confess. Do you believe this was good for Nixon to do? Would you have confessed if you were him? Why or why not?

» Nixon passed away in 1994 of a stroke. Do you think it is too soon to do a film like this, or has the right amount of time elapsed to expose these events?

Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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