Of all of this year’s Best Picture nominees, Ron Howards’s “Frost/Nixon” is the least sexy. Even Holocaust-themed “The Reader” features full-frontal male nudity and Kate Winslet’s bare breasts. Come to think of it, “Frost/Nixon” probably deserves the award for Un-sexiest Film of the Year, and not merely because it lacks R-rated content — though, perplexingly, it is an R-rated film. “Frost/Nixon” is about un-sexy topics like television journalism, the late 1970s, Richard Nixon and even un-sexiness itself. In spite of all this, the film succeeds at holding the audience’s attention through dramatic foreplay — repeatedly building up and delaying that famous moment when Nixon says he “let the American people down.” Nevertheless, “Frost/Nixon” leaves its audience feeling a little cheated.
Adapted by Peter Morgan from his play of the same name, “Frost/Nixon” dramatizes the story surrounding a series of interviews between sensationalist British talk show host David Frost and Richard Nixon three long years after the former-president’s resignation. The banality of the title is a hint that “Frost/Nixon” wants — if not expects — everyone to remember how the days-long interview was a phenomenal moment in the history of television, journalism, politics, the United States and so on.
The one challenge that “Frost/Nixon” hardly overcomes is the question of necessity. Why see this film when you can just watch — and may have already seen — the actual 1977 interviews, easily available on DVD? The back story of Frost’s personal investment in the project is more a fun-filled fact than grounds for a thorough re-imagination, while the portrait of Nixon is so fascinating that a film simply called “Nixon” would’ve provided more satisfaction … oh, wait.
But “Frost/Nixon” deserves little disgrace. Frank Langella’s formidable performance as the infinitely complex Tricky Dick is reason alone to see the film, which, to its credit, avoids any proselytizing: It neither flatters nor altogether demonizes unpopular, Republican, allegedly corrupt former-presidents. However, the amount of acclaim “Frost/Nixon” has earned — in particular, its Best Picture nomination — remains questionable. “Doubt,” “Rachel Getting Married” and “The Dark Knight” are superior to it in conception and execution alike.