he New York Times today reviews Frost/Nixon. I think it’s fair to say that Manohla Dargas, the paper’s chief film critic, is not unadmiring; but she is decidedly less impressed, than many other reviewers:
Stories of lost crowns lend themselves to drama, but not necessarily audience-pleasing entertainments, which may explain why “Frost/Nixon” registers as such a soothing, agreeably amusing experience, more palliative than purgative.
The film, all but inevitably, reverses the focus of attention. The fact that the piece was primarily written as a poison pen letter to David Frost —who is now no less controversial than he was back in the day in many quarters in Great Britain— explains the billing. That was fine for London’s tiny Donmar Warehouse, but opened up for the big screen, the reversal was required:
It’s twinkle versus glower in the big-screen edition of Peter Morgan’s theatrical smackdown “Frost/Nixon.” Directed by Ron Howard and adapted by Mr. Morgan, the film revisits the televised May 1977 face-off between the toothy British personality David Frost and the disgraced former president Richard M. Nixon three years after he left office, trimming their nearly 30-hour armchair-to-armchair spar into a tidy 122-minute narrative of loss and redemption that, at least from this ringside seat, would be better titled “Nixon/Frost.”
Some might deconstruct Ms. Dargas’ review and find that it reflects her own opinions about RN as much as her reactions to the motion picture. Whatever the reason, it’s pretty clear that she feels the film, and Frank Langella’s scenery eating performance, lets 37 off too easily:
And devour Mr. Langella does, chomp chomp. Artfully lighted and shot to accentuate the character’s trembling, affronted jowls, his shoulders hunched, face bunched, he creeps along like a spider, alternately retreating into the shadows and pouncing with a smile. That smile should give you nightmares, but Mr. Howard, a competent craftsman who tends to dim the lights in his movies even while brightening their themes (“A Beautiful Mind”), has neither the skill nor the will to draw out a dangerous performance from Mr. Langella, something to make your skin crawl or heart leap. Unlike Oliver Stone, who invested Nixon (a memorable Anthony Hopkins) with Shakespearean heft but refused to sentimentalize him, this is a portrait designed to elicit a sniffy tear or two along with a few statuettes.
Indeed, she concludes that Frost/Nixon is part of the problem rather than part of the solution: “The cleanup job continues.”