Three quick thoughts after watching Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon”
1. My God, does history repeat itself. It’s almost enough to make you cry.
FROST: And Cambodia, an invasion that everyone advised you against. All the CIA and Pentagon intelligence suggested it would fail, so why did you do it?
NIXON: Well, first of all, as a result of our incursion into Cambodia we picked up 22,000 rifles, 15 million rounds of ammunition, 150,000 rockets, mortars — that’s all belonging to the North Vietnamese which would only otherwise have been directed right onto American soldiers.
FROST: But one of the principle justifications you gave for the incursion was the supposed existence of the headquarters of the entire communist military operation in South Vietnam, a sort of Bamboo Pentagon, which proved not to exist at all. And by sending —
NIXON: Now hold on —
FROST: And by sending B-52s to carpet bomb a country, wiping out whole civilian areas, you end up radicalizing a once-moderate people, uniting them in anti-American sentiment and creating a monster in the Khmer Rouge that would lead to civil war and genocide.
NIXON: …I remember the construction worker in Philadelphia … and he said “Sir, I got only one criticism of the Cambodia thing. If you’d gone in earlier, you might have captured the gun that killed my boy three months ago.” So you’re asking me, do I regret going in to Cambodia? No. I don’t. You know what? I wish I’d gone in sooner. And harder!
The historical parallels are uncanny. Just add the arrogance, the self-delusion, and the retroactive justification for the invasion of a country, and you’ve got me wondering: When will W get his public Frosting?
2. What a horrible job Universal did marketing this movie!
In any trailer you saw, did you ever get the notion that this was all about one big, hard-nosed interview that made Nixon bark and sweat and admit he was naughty? That’s sure what it looked like. But that’s only part of the story — and truly the less interesting bit. The real story is about a battle of wills between a darkly charismatic and manipulative ex-President and the seemingly out-of-his-league talk show host whose soft approach is in danger of exonerating Nixon, not convicting him.
Though it likely exaggerates for the sake of storytelling, this film spends far more time dangling Frost’s fat over the fire. His prep time suffers as he tries to maintain his debutante lifestyle while struggling to find funding for the expensive interview. His research team is full of attack dogs who lose confidence in him as the president manhandles Frost on soft and hard questions alike. Will this interview actually make Nixon look sympathetic?
That’s so much more compelling that a film simply about Nixon leaning into the camera and harrumphing “If the president does it, it’s not illegal!” while Frost gives his stiff butler’s delivery, “I’m sorry?” Pardon me, old boy. Be a good chap, would you, and repeat that droll bit about the legality, eh? Yes, quite.
3. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have almost redeemed themselves for The Cat in the Hat. Almost.