Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Heroes and villains

Growing up in 60’s U.K., one of my favorite programs was That Was the Week That Was. It was a terrific satire from Cambridge University graduates and was the forerunner of many of today’s political satires. David Frost was a regular and went on to become the U.K.'s, if not the world's, preeminent talk show host and political commentator. His breakout moment took place in May 1977 when his showdown interview with Richard Nixon drew close to 50 million viewers in the U.S. and was aired throughout the world. Toward the end of the final interview, he finally broke Nixon down.

Nowadays, Frost is working at Al Jazeera with his Frost Over the World show and continues to break new ground. He has interviewed every U.K. Prime Minister since Harold Wilson and every American president since Nixon. I watched the movie, Frost/Nixon, yesterday aboard Singapore Airlines. It was tremendous theater and, as far as I could remember, around 85% true.

Michael Sheen, who plays David Frost, has received many kudos for this role and is on a hot streak at the moment. He played Tony Blair in The Queen and, one of my own flawed heroes, Brian Clough in The Damned United. His physical resemblance to David Frost is remarkable but I thought he played the part too light and was a little too flaky. For me, the compelling performance was Frank Langella as Nixon. He starts slowly, but by the end of the movie he is totally credible. His hulking, domineering presence fills the screen and his breakdown is an incredible moment. It’s like watching 'The Rumble in the Jungle' or the 'Thrilla in Manila'.

The detail in the movie is riveting and I’ve rarely felt two hours go by so quickly. Watching Frost put his reputation and his career on the line and nearly losing all of it before his final knockout on the Watergate episode is drama of the highest order. Then there’s watching the devil inside Nixon come to life. It is frightening but simultaneously manages to create a sympathetic character. (Did I really say that?)

Don’t miss this movie.

And don’t miss the new Jack Reacher book either. April 7 saw the global launch of Lee Child’s Gone Tomorrow. I’ve already devoured it. My favorite hero is back at his best.

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