I think I might make a good movie reviewer, precisely because I see so few of them. Honestly, I see maybe one or two a year, and that includes on TV too. I don't know exactly why that is, I used to see more films. As each successive child came along and it got harder and harder and more expensive to go out, it was hard to justify. It also become impossible to watch movies in my house, as there was always some kind of interruption or toilet disaster or dog wanting in-out-in-out-in-out which made it a hopeless quest for me to try and engage fully into the cinematic story.

Past those frustrations, so many times now I have been so disappointed with movies that I have come to expect that most of them will not be good, or outright suck, and are just not worth my time. I just hate it when I can see the infrastructure too plainly: the clunky heavy-handed Hollywood writing, the wooden shallow acting, too much action and too little plot, or something so bleak and intellectual that you feel the entire cast and crew probably shot themselves to death at the wrap party. I don't like it when I know in advance all the little tricks, or big ones, when I know how for the ONE MILLIONTH TIME that a Disney film is going to have a dead/missing parent, the bickering male/female leads are going to end up in bed together, or that some heavily-made-up actor playing some poor pathetic loner cancer victim, who is of course crusty and aloof yet vulnerable, is shedding that one single tear in close up to the 6000 members of The Association of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, not to me.

So today, with my fresh and un-movied eyes, I had the unfettered opportunity to see a movie in the theater, with a bottle of water and a popcorn, and I chose directer Ron Howard's adaptation of screenwriter Peter Morgan's hit play, "Frost/Nixon." There was a loud talker behind me at the start, but after a few head whips and glares in his direction, and him probably thinking about that movie shooter dude in Philadelphia, he shut up for the rest of the film. I think if he would've kept it up I would've relocated my seat right next to him and just peppered him with all kinds of questions and observations like, "DO YOU THINK IT IS CHILLY IN HERE?" and "TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR BANKRUPTCY THAT YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT BEFORE, THAT IS FUCKING FASCINATING!" and "HAVE YOU EVER HAD YOUR HEARING CHECKED?" and "MAN, NIXON HAD THE LIFE THERE IN CALIFORNIA, LOOK AT THAT SWEET HOUSE HE HAD!"


I wanted to see this film because it has some meaning to me as someone who is very interested in 20th Century culture and history, and as someone who remembers the interviews that David Frost did with Richard Nixon, remembers the endless endless endless TV and newspaper coverage of Watergate, Nixon's resignation and his helicopter flying off into the sky, so like the ones flying off at the end of the Vietnam war, loaded with the desperate and escaping. I was still a child then, of staunch Republican parents who believed Nixon was shamelessly and unfairly hounded out of office. But for me, having spent my whole life up until then seeing the very graphic depictions of the Vietnam War served to me via Walter Cronkite and LIFE Magazine, seeing the absolute fury of the young people who wanted no part of it and were being cut down by the thousands, I looked into the face of Richard Nixon and I saw a liar, of someone terrifically disconnected from so many of the people of the United States, of someone whose time was past. It was not a matter of debate in our house then, and my little child opinion would have been considered a great and unpatriotic offense by my dad, the WWII vet, so I said nothing.

But I watched, and I thought. The day Gerald Ford gave Richard Nixon a full and absolute pardon was the moment where I decided for myself that politicians were never to be trusted. This is so much the real and devastating legacy of Richard Nixon: he smashed to pieces any last remaining ideal of American honesty, justice, selfless service, or clean government. He left the country jaded and disillusioned, never again to trust in leaders. Even worse, people stopped trying to care or change things. Most people,since that time, just expect nothing from anyone in government. People too young to remember this time or those not yet born have grown up with no other view. There is a hopelessness, a feeling that it is a game so big and so vicious behind the scenes, that we just for the most part go along and accept it now. How horrible. Nixon wasn't the first President to abuse his power in a big way, but in his arrogance even after being utterly laid open to the world as a scheming self-serving liar, history will always find him, in the end, a weak man who ended up a monster, banished to San Clemente, his only prison.

"Frost/Nixon" is, at the same time, both a magnificent and riveting film, and disappointing because of the rather hypocritical liberties it takes with the truth. The performances of Michael Sheen as British television host David Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon, are remarkable, no doubt perfectly honed from both actors reprising their roles from both the London and New York stage productions. I do not ever and at all lightly offer such praise, and I can hardly think of another performance that I would apply this to, but I felt Langella's portrayal was acting at its very finest. Playing such a character as Nixon is monumental endeavor; he is so recognizable and with such identifiable and well-known mannerisms, that there is but the thinnest of lines to send the performance into unmeaning farce. Yet for the entire film -- two hours plus -- there was not a moment where Langella faltered. He was Richard Nixon, period, which the entire film depended upon.

The film was so well-written and so well-paced that I did not feel manipulated, bored, frustrated, or talked-down-to whatsoever. The dialogue was natural, the time period kept true, the characters real and believable. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is actually so difficult to pull off. The writer must have a deep feeling for all kinds of people and personalities, a superb ear for conversation, an unerring sixth sense of what rings true and what doesn't,and the ease of language to be able to translate it onto paper. The actors have to be able to inhabit those people on the paper, make them come alive, make us believe they are them. Ron Howard, of course, is a rock solid director who is never afraid to let the story play out in such a natural way, and is always able to illuminate humanity, glorious or sad, in an intelligent and often beautiful manner.

I loved the film for these things. But the 20th Century maven in me, the documentarian, the completist, the stickler for accuracy, is let down by "Frost/Nixon." (Semi-spoiler alert NOW if you haven't seen the film, and you should see the film, so go see the film, then come back and finish reading this really damn long post.) Substantial changes were made in the dialogue from the original set of interviews, outright doing a 180 from what was actually said by Nixon in some cases, asummably, to get a more satisfactory climatic payoff for the film's end. Well, shit. I really wish they felt they didn't have to do that. It just does not at all seem right to me to so seriously change the language of a real piece of documented and important world history to suit a movie audience. It seems misguided and terribly misleading, as the vast number of people who see this movie, now and in the future, will take "Frost/Nixon" as gospel, transcribed faithfully. It just is not. If it were something of less import or less potential impact, I would let them have their creative license. But in this case, I believe it was a serious mistake, short-sighted, and, yes, arrogant. This could have been a truly great film, if it had only been able to be truthful in the spots where the truth is so easily checked and known.

I don't know when I will see another movie again, but when I do I doubt it will be as good as "Frost/Nixon," its faults included. I do know that during the writing of this blog, the phone rang three times, one child came through the room to shower, one child asked me where the step stool was, the dog let out a huge WOOF to come back in, and the mail came in with a lovely big package of books. It is easier to pause typing, I guess.