I like Ron Howard. I've always liked Ron Howard movies. In fact, the Ron Howard movie that all the other critics seem to despise is one of my favorite Ron Howard movies. (Far and Away.)
So that being said, there is no sense in wasting any time here, might as well get to the things that bugged me about Frost/Nixon.
There is a difference in documentary and narrative film. The line can be completely forgotten when doing satire. This is Spinal Tap changed that forever and Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show) carried the torch where Reiner left off.
The lines are too solid in drama. That being said, I think that the only mistake that Ron Howard made in this film was in the interviews. Unlike the historical films of Stone, the film was mostly told linearly. All the historical stuff was fired at us in the beginning of the film with actual news clips from the Watergate scandal, interspersed with CGI'd actors.
I've always had a little problem with this CGI-ing actors into real events. Zemeckis got away with it in Forest Gump because he had triggered the audiences mind to be prepared for such a thing and there was no real Historical Gump in the first place. The result was a warm and affectionate smile from the audience back at the filmmaker who was winking at us through the screen as Forest talks to Nixon about his war wound on his buttocks.
In Frost/Nixon, Howard seems to need us to believe that the actors portraying the real characters were the real thing. No director-to-audience winking allowed. However when he interspersed the reminiscing interviews with the narrative story, using the actors in the film as the "actual witnesses" it always made me uncomfortable. Documentary lines were crossed. The imagination disengaged and I longed to see real footage. I found myself wanting to get home to watch the actual Frost/Nixon interview and study the real people. Of course, that's all a sign of a good storyteller, but one who has tried to mix genres in a way that leaves us in an emotional limbo wanting one or the other genre but not knowing why.
This caused a few other things to suffer in the film, mainly Frost's character development. I couldn't get into the actors recreation of Frost because I was too busy trying to remember if I even knew who the real Frost was and who would be the modern day equivalent if say, Bush would have quit. Regis? ... Maybe.
A few other things bugged me. I didn't really think that Frost's fiance, or whatever she was, was needed. She was a bit of a wallflower emotionally and I would have preferred a string of girlfriends to further develop Frost's character. Even if it showed his flaws.
There were many, many strong things about the film. Howard is a good filmmaker with an eye for spotting good stories to tell. He BELIEVES in the story that he is telling and in this case, he wanted us to believe that the actors were real too badly.
Stong points: Frank Langella played Nixon and he was fantastic. He was much more dark and brooding than the real Richard Nixon who, if you watch the interviews, was so incredibly likable. Langella's likeableness was more along the lines of a cult-leader fascination. Otherwise, Langella was mesmerizing. My favorite moment in the film was his phone call to Frost the night before the last interview. What an amazing performance.
Frost was played by Michael Sheen and he was compelling, though his character was most certainly written aloof. I'm sure that was intentional, but I could have gone for a little more Frost-nitty-gritty.
The best thing about this film was that it made me re-think the whole Nixon ordeal. A few years back, don't ask me why, I got on a Watergate kick and spent a few days doing nothing but studying and listening to the tapes and so forth. I came out thinking... "whoopide do."
I believe that though Nixon was wrong in trying to cover up evidence, he was a President on the cuff of the technological age. And if every president before him would have withstood the scrutiny that he had, I believe we'd be very surprised at what we would find. His greatest crimes, in my opinion, where not in the Watergate tapes but in his Vietnam escalations. Maybe even a greater crime was quitting. Strange how that worked out.
I'd be interested in hearing from some of those who experienced the real Watergate and a how it measured up to your memory of the incident.