Why, why, oh why do I find Richard Nixon so intriguing? Or is enchanting the word? I'm no Republican (aside from one bizarre month last summer), and I'm not huge fan of politicians in general. You couldn't pay me to cast a vote for the scoundrel, so I guess I don't really know the reason he constantly occupies my thoughts. Perhaps it's his legendary sex appeal, everything from the perspiration to the baggy eyes to the sagging, hound-dog visage. Or it could be that patented Nixonian brand of paranoia about everything from hippies to rock n' roll to the media that manifested itself in a full-fledged enemies list. I suppose all that stuff has something to do with it, but I think the real reason I adore him is that he's simply the most notorious villain in the history of American politics. The subterfuge, the scheming. George Bush tried his damndest to usurp that title, but he was just too stupid. I like bad guys. Intelligent, piano playing bad guys are even better, and you could easily slap any number of these labels on our 37th president.
So, it follows that Frost/Nixon, the latest effort from sometimes good director Ron Howard, was one of the most anticipated movies of the year for me. And let me put your doubts to rest now: Frost/Nixon is not only a good film. It is unquestionably the greatest Richard Nixon film of all time.
Perhaps I'm biased. Of course I'm biased. Few people know that I keep the living brain of Nixon in a jar in the secret laboratory under my house. But even so, I can say objectively that Frank Langella's career-defining portrayal of Nixon is spellbinding from start to finish.
The premise is simple. British TV personality, David Frost, wants to boost his career by interviewing the disgraced former president. Nixon sees an interview with the popular but fluffy Frost as a chance to endear himself to the people and insert himself back into politics (and, tapping his mercenary side, there's also the matter of a few hundred thousand dollars). Now, along the way we get some nonsense from Frost's cohorts about wanting to, "give Nixon the trial he never had," and while Rebecca Hall looks great decorating scenes as Frost's main squeeze, the real point of this film is to watch Langella, who not coincidentally played Dracula (and Skeletor) once upon a time, disappear into the role of the ultimate slimeball politician, who, even in humiliation, can seduce his audience and his would-be hardball interviewer with ostensibly boring, strangely mesmerizing tales of heroism in his handling of China, Russia and the invasion of Cambodia. Langella is a dynamo all the way, culminating with a drunken, late night phone call to Frost on the eve of his Watergate interview. Here Langella ceases to be an actor. He's not channeling Nixon; he is Nixon, in all his jowl flapping glory.
I won't spoil the Watergate talks for you, but rest assured that when Frost finally applies the heat, Langella answers with a squirming, sweating vision of a broken man. It's more than Oscar-worthy; it's the reason why Langella is a top candidate for this year's McBone Award for Best Actor.
And yes, I know I'm fawning here. Tribute must be paid as well to Michael Sheen. He is excellent as David Frost, whose smiling veneer just barely conceals a man who is outmatched and knows his career is on the line.
Oh, and I should point out that the scenes with Kevin Bacon as Nixon's personal lapdog, Jack Brennan, are also quite entertaining.
Official McBone Rating: 5.0 McBones.