Frost/Nixon started out as a stage play, which I saw on Broadway last year, just as news of its move to film was being announced. I was there mostly to see Michael Sheen, as British TV interviewer David Frost, and partly to see what playwright Peter Morgan, who wrote the film The Queen (and also the TV movie The Deal, with Sheen as Tony Blair) would do with the material. It wasn’t my favorite ever experience at the theater, but the performances were great — Frank Langella also played Nixon on the stage — and it was an intriguing look at a moment of recent history that I have no memory of, being about five years old when this all happened.
It’s very much a play, though, with one secondary character (the one played by Sam Rockwell in the film) narrating the story, speaking directly to the audience, and reflecting on his own involvement as a member of Frost’s production team. And I thought, Well, this is gonna be a challenge to whomever directs the movie version of this. How is this gonna work on film? I assumed it wouldn’t be a direct pickup of the material from the stage, that something would have to fleshed out and dramatized, but still… I was even more intrigued now, to see how this would be adapted.
And then I heard it was Ron Howard directing the film, and I groaned. If there’s one story that does not need the Ron Howard sledgehammer of obviousness and sentiment, it’s this one.
But I might have to apologize to Howard. The trailer looks more like his startlingly unsentimental Apollo 13 than it does like, say, A Beautiful Mind. Maybe he needs to make movies based on well-known historical events more often.
Frost/Nixon opens in limited release in the U.S. on December 5, and opens in the U.K. on January 9, 2009.
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