Stone Reviews Frost/Nixon

I kid you not:


The first journalist to reach me on my cell phone to tell me of the ridiculous charges by Bernard Spitzer's lawyers that I had made a threatening phone call to the old man told me the alleged offense was August 8th. That is the night I saw Frost/Nixon at the Lunt/Fontaine Theater off Times Square. I learned only later that the alleged call was "made" on Monday, August 6th a night on which the theater is dark.

Nonetheless I highly recommend the play to Governor Elliot Spitzer because it underlines the dangers hubris and the inexerable web a public official tangles himself in when he tells a lie. Since the play has closed I hope the Governor can catch a revival.

Michael Sheen's portrayal of David Frost as a swinging sixties/Carnaby Street kind of guy with a taste for the jet set, fine wine and beautiful birds is on the mark. The showman in Frost over shadows the journalist. Frost is reluctant to push Nixon and underestimates the old man's ability to run out the clock with long monologues about his meetings with Mao, De Gaulle, Churchill and his foreign policy views.

All the sanctimonious crap from the liberal journalists who have signed on to research and produce the Frost/Nixon interviews was typically excessive in their rhetoric about Nixon's abuse of power and the threats his actions posed to the US Constitution and our civil liberties.

It's funny how these same civil libertarians were silent when Robert Kennedy wiretapped Dr. Martin Luther King, when Bill Clinton used the FBI to cover up the Travelgate mess or when Governor Spitzer used the New York State police to spy on his political opponents and his Aides fabricated State documents to pedal to the media as real. None of these abuses, of course, rise to the level of Nixon's.

While Frank Langella's performance as the thirty-seventh President is superb, Langella's Nixon is a rough translation when compared to the portrayal of Nixon by Anthony Hopkins in the Oliver Stone movie "Nixon". Hopkins captures every tick and mannerism including the strobe-light smiles and fidgety hand gestures of the real Nixon.

When I traveled with Nixon after a particularly long day he asked me for an aspirin. I gave him a bottle with a childproof cap. I later saw the bottle with teeth marks all over the cap in his open brief case. Both Langella and Hopkins capture this lack of dexterity and the awkwardness of a man who never knew where to put his hands.

Other reviewers have correctly said that Langella makes Nixon, the bete noire of the American Left, a sympathetic figure. In many ways Frost/Nixon helps further rebalance our view of Nixon as a man who was both great and fatally flawed as it recalls his great accomplishments for world peace, civil rights (it was Nixon who desegregated public schools in America - not Lyndon Johnson) as well as his tragic mistakes. For the first time, under Nixon, the United States spent more on people than they did the military.

The play gets its biggest laugh when, pre-interview, Nixon asks Frost if he "did any fornicating over the weekend". As one who shared martinis with Nixon I know that Nixon, a Navy man, could swear a blue streak and did, often punctuating conversations with Aides with "f*ck" and often described his political opponents as "assholes". I have always doubted the authenticity of those who said Nixon, in an attempt to be one of the boys, would say fornicate instead of f*ck. Nonetheless, it may be the plays best line.

I recall a story when Nixon was running for Governor of California unsuccessfully in 1962. The local Republican recommended that Nixon stop by and see the editor of a weekly newspaper that had been critical of the former Vice President. "Are you kidding?" said Nixon "I wouldn't give him the sweat off my balls." Does this sound like a guy who would say fornicate instead of 'f*ck'?

You can spare me the sappy soliloquy by Scotty Reston character at the plays end that after the Frost interviews Nixon lost all respectability and was never able to re-establish his presence on the world stage - nonsense, of course, because he went on to write several best sellers on foreign policy and render valuable foreign policy advice to President Bill Clinton at a time that Nixon probably had more first hand knowledge about what was going on in Russia than our intelligence agencies.

Four living American Presidents attended his funeral where Bill Clinton delivered the eulogy. While most Americans continue to have a low opinion of Nixon in the aftermath of Watergate his ability to fascinate us continues. Frost/Nixon is a manifestation of this and it fascinates as well.

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