Making the Grades
For three years after Richard Nixon's threatened impeachment and resignation, little was heard from the disgraced statesman. Having been pardoned for his wrongdoings, there was never any legal means to force the 37th U.S. President to come clean with his involvement in the Watergate scandal.
Frost/Nixon opens in those dying days of his administration, and British journalist/satirist David Frost (played by Michael Sheen) is perhaps more curious than anyone to know what really happened. So much so that he's willing to put hundreds of thousands of his own dollars and his career on the line to have the opportunity to interview Nixon (Frank Langella). The plan is to give the former commander-in-chief a chance to say what Frost is convinced the people of the United States are dying to hear: Nixon's confession.
Baiting the reclusive ex-president with an ever-increasing sum of money, Frost finally gets his wish -- but now he has to find a buyer for his series of interviews. Knocking on the doors of the major U.S. networks, he is met with rejections -- mainly because network executives are concerned about supporting "checkbook journalism" -- the practice of paying an interview subject.
Nevertheless, the Englishman presses forward with his goal, and hires a team to help him find out everything about Watergate and Nixon's past. Namely, these investigators are James Reston, Jr. (Sam Rockwell), the author of numerous books about Nixon and a firm critic of the man's leadership, and Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt), a veteran reporter. The pair begins their in-depth research while Frost beats the bushes at corporate offices (like Weed Eater) looking for extra cash.
At the same time some of Nixon's supporters, like his dedicated chief of staff Colonel Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) and prominent newswoman Diane Swayer (Kate Jennings Grant), construct their own tactics. They hope the interview series will win back public empathy for the man who, just a few years earlier, was elected by the second largest majority of voters in U.S. history.
For parents wishing to share this production with their teens, language may be the greatest concern. While profanities are only moderately frequent, four sexual expletives are heard along with a collection of rude anatomical terms, scatological expletives and uses of Christian deity. Other content consists of images from archival footage of injured and dead people, and depictions of smoking and drinking. Also, there is a brief backside view of a nude man running on a beach, what appears to be a naked woman climbing out of bed in a very dark room, and implied sexuality between an unmarried couple.
Like The Queen and The Other Boleyn Girl, this film was written by Peter Morgan. And just as in those two movies, his script provides similar creative perspectives of what might have been going on behind the scenes -- with the emphasis on might. Setting up our protagonist and antagonist in a David versus Goliath battle, the script offers Frost a hero's prize, while metaphorically delivering Nixon's head on a platter -- likely with a tad more garnish than in reality.
In a newspaper interview with The Guardian in August 2006, Morgan told reporter Gareth McLean, "Everyone I spoke to told the story their way. Even people in the room [at the time of the interviews] tell different versions. There's no one truth about what happened off camera or behind the scenes during the period covered in our story. Perhaps for that reason, my conscience was clear about bringing my own writer's imagination to the piece."
These remarks should remind us that even with the stellar performances, excellent writing, and engaging emotions found in Frost/Nixon, historical movies and absolute truth are likely to be as conflicting as the two characterizations found in this film.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Frost / Nixon.
Dennis Wholey, host of This is America, interviewed David Frost in 2007, during which Frost discusses many of the events of the Nixon interviews seen in this movie. The interview with Wholey can be viewed below: