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Heroes of the Zeroes: Frost/Nixon

by on April 23, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

Rated R

Ron Howard took his usual lack-of-fidelity lumps for 2008’s “Frost/Nixon,” a biopic about the televised 1977 interviews between deposed President Richard Nixon and British talk-show journalist David Frost. No explosive bombshells detonated, and any admission of Nixon’s guilt in Watergate was tacit at best.

But Peter Morgan’s script (based on his stage play) wasn’t revisionist, just repurposed as commentary on TV’s power to influence memory and its unique ability to deliver, or deny, success in America.

Reprising their stage roles, Michael Sheen and Frank Langella are the playboy and the politician, both in the wilderness if they’re not in the limelight. They clashed in a feisty fight to see who’d emerge the most victorious in a scrap that, in truth, had two winners (as both profited from the interviews’ success).

“Frost/Nixon” becomes Howard’s second great boxing movie of the Zeroes, using pugilist terms and plenty of impulsive, improvised verbal feints, shucks and jives (namely a fictitious phone call that may just be Frost’s delusion). Meanwhile, Sheen and Langella easily slip into their characters’ skins — Langella not resembling Nixon physically, but inhabiting mannerisms, tics and, especially, neuroses.

See, Frost wasn’t Nixon’s foe so much as that camera’s red light, which Howard films as futuristic, robotic and destructive from Nixon’s vantage point (while the script references Nixon’s disastrous TV appearance in a 1960 presidential debate).

What audiences deduce from one shot can create an imprint for how an entire era is remembered and interpreted — a force that easily trumps celebrity and presidency.