Thursday, April 12, 2007

Frost/Nixon Script Review

With Angel and Demons now full steam ahead, Ron Howard's going to be too busy to direct Frost/Nixon anytime soon. Hopefully he'll end up passing and somebody we can really get excited about will step behind the camera. It seems like a no-brainer to offer it to Stephen Frears, but there are countless others. Neil LaBute springs to mind, just as an example. Soderbergh, of course - and I think he'd find it tempting.

Simon Reynold's thoughtful and encouraging review follows. I really have to thank Simon for the script reviews he's been writing for film ick - I enjoy reading them, first of all, but I also feel proud to be able to publish them.

We'll begin this time with a large piece of excerpted dialogue from Richard Nixon...

If we’re honest for a minute. If we reflect privately just for a moment...if we allow ourselves...a glimpse into that shadowy place we call our soul, isn’t that why we’re here now...? The two of us? Looking for a way back? Into the sun? Into the limelight? Back onto the winner’s podium? Because we could feel it slipping away? We were headed, both of us, for the dirt. The place the snobs always told us we’d end up. Face in the dust. Humiliated all the more for having tried so pitifully hard. Well, to hell with that. We’re not going to let that happen. Either of us. We’re going to show those bums, and make them choke on our continued success. Our continued headlines. Our continued awards, power and glory. We’re going to make those motherf***ers choke. Am I right?

Power is obviously something that fascinates Peter Morgan. He’s carved himself an impressive CV over the past five years writing films about some very recognisable and powerful men and women. Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Henry VIII, Lord Longford, Queen Elizabeth II and Idi Amin have all been the focus of recent Morgan projects.

Next up we’ll see him tackle English football manager Brian Clough in a TV version of David Peace’s The Damned Utd and an adaptation of his own play Frost/Nixon, which unsurprisingly focuses on Sir David Frost’s 1977 interview with Richard Nixon. Michael Sheen and Frank Langella starred in the play, but there’s no word on whether or not either will return for the Ron Howard directed film. You can catch some of the (real) Frost/Nixon interview on YouTube.

The film revolves around David Frost - a light-weight talk show and satirist whose had success in the UK but has lost and American TV show and is about to see the plug pulled on his Australian one – as he attempts to secure anexclusive interview with Richard Nixon in the years after the Watergate scandal.

Frost quickly assembles a team to produce a TV special and offers Nixon $500,000 for the interview. Frost is small fry in the States and 60 Minutes’Mike Wallace has $300,000 on the table - but Nixon and his advisors feel they should go with Frost. Not only is he offering more money, he is also viewed as a lightweight by Team Nixon. Frost’s celebrity lifestyle and powder-puff interviews with the likes of the Bee Gees lead them to believe that Nixon can take his interviewer apart and perhaps, just perhaps, regain America’s trust and find a way back into politics.

Both these men are looking for redemption – this is their one shot and it’s akin to a brutal boxing match. Frost bats questions at Nixon, Nixon replies – then they break and Team Frost and Team Nixon patch their fighters up. Frost’s people want him to turn the screw, to put Nixon on trial. He rambles on and his producers want him to pressure the ex-President on Watergate. Nixon’s advisors try and keep him on track, it seems apparent early on that Frost is no match for the former President. There are twists and turns in the interview, powerful blows struck by both men, before a victor eventually emerges. Even if you know little about the Frost/Nixon interviews you can probably figure out who that is.

David Frost is someone whose always been in the British public eye and it’s interesting to see him as he was before many remember him. He is a playboy, a major celebrity, someone whose fierce drive and ambition have taken him further than many more talented than him. His search for credibility and American notoriety leads him to audaciously approach Nixon. Richard Nixon is portrayed as a man with regret heavily weighing down on his shoulders. His relationship with Frost outside of the interview is quite touching. In one scene he admires Frost’s laceless Gucci loafers, but when asking his Head of Staff Brennan his opinion, Brennan dismisses them as being too effeminate.

Nixon even tells Frost he would make a good politician. While Nixon is not much of a people person, preferring instead debate and discourse, Frost is effortless in the company of others, he likes people and people like him. “Say, maybe we got it wrong. Maybe you should have been the politician. And I the rigorous interviewer,” he says.

Frost/Nixon is a fascinating script by a writer on top of his game. Morgan writes with clinical precision, his style is somewhat similar to Jonathan Nolan. Even though they write completely different films, both have the ability to cut away the fat and tell an interesting story in an efficient manner.

When the post-Frost/Nixon-release awards season rolls around this film could well be front and centre. It is in some ways a companion piece to The Queen, and subsequently it suffers from some similar problems. The most obvious of which is the fact it is incredibly un-cinematic (even less so than The Queen). Stage plays are often difficult to bring to the big-screen, primarily because they are specifically designed for the more intimate theatre experience.

When you major set-piece is a television interview, how do you make that interesting? That’s something that director Ron Howard has to figure out if he ends up making this film. Frankly, I’m not sure he’s the right man for the job – his direction of The Da Vinci Code was horrendous, Dan Brown’s source material was hardly stellar but his book moved at fast pace, Howard made the film feel six hours long.

Frost/Nixon doesn’t necessarily require a big budget or even a home at a large studio (you could probably make the film for less than $10 million) but what it does need is a very good director who’ll attack the material with the same enthusiasm and vigour as David Frost did with Richard Nixon.

Simply superb. Thanks again, Simon. Personally, I've got no idea what your comments about Jonathan Nolan are based upon but I see we're eye-to-eye about Howard.

UK readers take note: Longford, as scripted by Peter Morgan, gets another showing on Channel 4 tonight. It's brilliant and, if you don't have a VCR or DVR or anything like that at all, I might even recommend you skip House to catch it.

No comments: