The Cineplex serving us Western Shore bumpkins only books movies that have at least one superhero and several scenes in which things get blown up real good.
So I haven’t seen Ron Howard’s cinematic Frost/Nixon yet, but what kind of a critic would I be if I let such minor details stand in the way of making judgments and expressing opinions. So I’m pretty sure that David Denby’s review in this week’s New Yorker gets everything just about right as far as F/N is concerned.
In 1969, just after Richard Nixon was elected President, he gave a press conference in which he addressed the question of Soviet-American relations. His remarks were an entirely cogent and candid summing up of the state of affairs, and, among the cadre of Nixon haters, of whom, even though young, I was a veteran, the shock was considerable. Some of us had made the mistake of not noticing that Nixon was extremely intelligent. Later on, of course, during the Watergate crisis, Nixon’s brilliance was overcome by pathologies of various kinds. One of the virtues of “Frost/Nixon,” Ron Howard’s adaptation of Peter Morgan’s hit play, is that it brings the intelligence back to the forefront without dispelling the elements of menace and fraudulence that were also part of Nixon’s temperament.
It is already clear that the meme of the moment is Nixon/Bush, and Mr. Denby slides smoothly home to that comfortable and soon-to-be conventional base.
“Frost/Nixon” offers considerable insight into the Nixon mystery, without solving it; the movie is fully absorbing and even, when Nixon falls into a drunken, resentful rage, exciting, but I can’t escape the feeling that it carries about it an aura of momentousness that isn’t warranted by the events. Why is it meant to be so important to us whether David Frost revives his career? Frost and Reston did finally goad Nixon into saying that he let the American people down, and that he believed that “when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal,” and they have extracted a considerable amount of copy out of the broadcasts (including two books). But it’s possible that both journalists and playwright have confused a media coup (and a less important one than that of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein) with a cleansing act that forever chastened the Presidency. It was anything but that: after all, twenty-four years later, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney entered the White House.