Monday, 9 February 2009

I seem to have got a little behind.

It's a whole 5 days since I saw Frost/Nixon, and I haven't got around to posting about it.

It's a very simple thing. This is refreshing, really, in the context of the complex story of Slumdog Millionaire or of the heavy special effects and over-thought concepts that are putting me off wanting to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The whole thing centres around one man's ability to draw out another. It's very static, which is how it made such a successful play (look at the list of award nominations), and that could have been a criticism for some. Indeed, there have been comments on its slowness. The bulk of the screentime is focused on the interviews themselves, two men sitting opposite one another in a room while others sit in other rooms and comment, and on scenes in hotel rooms discussing strategy. The drama of the thing is in the words and the lead up. The interactions between Frost (Michael Sheen) and Nixon (Frank Langella) depict a battle, between a young knight with something to prove and a wily old fighter. Neither man appears particularly likable - Frost is cocky and slimy and lackadaisical in his approach to the work. He regards the exercise purely as a means to ratings, hardly paying any attention to how important these interviews could be for a nation that felt betrayed. Nixon could actually be attractive, if shown as a man who accepted his mistakes and who wanted to make good. It humanises him. This film, like the interviews themselves, must tread a very fine line between intriguing us with this man and reminding us that he has committed quite possibly criminal wrongdoing in an unforgivably selfish and cynical way for a man in his position. It was here that I had the quibble with it, where I felt the otherwise faultless credibility of the film wavered. Nixon makes continual references to money - how much he can earn from this, how much something is worth. Is a man who can become President of America really that focused on money? Power, that I could understand, but if you wanted money, why would you become President? There are jobs paid nearly as highly without the associated risks and exposure. I suppose it's just about believable; you're going to have to be badly adjusted, or become so, in some way in order to reach that kind of position. I mean that, one must know that one is different from everyone else. In some way, the focus on money reminds us that this Nixon is just a man, not different to anyone. I think that was a failing - I just didn't believe it.

The denouement is known from the beginning; everyone knows that the Frost interviews were the trial Nixon never had, and that he succeeded in getting the confession it seems that the world had been craving. I didn't know anything about the Watergate scandal, beyond that it happened and that it resulted in Nixon's near-impeachment and resignation (sorry Americans and historians, I appreciate I probably should know more about it, but I suspect it fell into a hole in which I was too young to remember anything about it and it hadn't yet become old enough to be history taught at school). The film doesn't give you a great deal to go on, rather assuming knowledge, I think, but doesn't do so in such a way that it becomes completely impossible to follow. That was a point in its favour, really - it doesn't patronise its audience at least in this way, even if I feel it does a little in its treatment of Nixon as a person.

In short, I found it riveting. I suspect many people wouldn't; it's atypical of most modern films. To be honest, I'm slightly surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did, usually preferring my films not to be hugely thought-provoking but possessed of an engaging plot (involving car chases, people getting shot, sex scenes and a romantic ending - I'm a boy about these things). I suspect that the reason I usually prefer action films is that they are so formulaic that they almost always fulfil their potential. I am frequently disappointed by cerebral films that have gaping holes in their thinking - that aim high and don't succeed, and seem to feel self-satisfied about that. I find it difficult to forgive someone spending the millions they do on making something that is not great art. I suspect I'm slightly more forgiving of theatre and literature; if it doesn't live up to expectations, well, more resources might have helped. When you have seemingly limitless funds, there seems to be no excuse for making a bad film. I don't know what they spent on this, but in the context of film budgets I suspect it was not huge. And it succeeds.

Worth a look.

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