Watergate Film Analysis

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It's not surprising that the movie Frost/Nixon is receiving rave reviews. Like the eponymous smash play it's based on, it tells a dramatic story of a clash of two interesting figures (one of them absolutely riveting), with two richly talented actors, Frank Langella as Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen as David Frost. The film is even more powerful than the play because of the effects of motion-picture techniques - size, penetrating close-ups, film clips, variegated scenery, and simply more action. But mainly size: everyone and everything is bigger - even eyeballs. Moreover, the movie is set against the backdrop of one of the most dramatic, frightening, and significant episodes in American history -- "Watergate" is inadequate shorthand for the…show more content…
The climactic moment of the movie (as in the play) has Nixon confessing to having participated in the cover-up of the famous break-in of the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee, in June, 1972 by operatives hired by White House aides. But this "confession" is produced through a blatant distortion of what Nixon actually said in the interviews. At that particular moment, Frost was pressing Nixon to admit that he had more than made "mistakes," that there had in fact been wrongdoing, that crime might have been involved (a rather mild way of putting it). Then, through a sleight of hand, the script simply changes what Nixon actually said: the script of the play has Nixon admitting that he "...was involved in a 'cover-up,' as you call it." The ellipsis is of course unknown to the audience, and is crucial: What Nixon actually said was, "You're wanting to me to say that I participated in an illegal cover-up.…show more content…
Langella, wreaks the magic of not just imitating Nixon but becoming him before our eyes, but this is not the true Nixon. The one we meet in the movie is too mellow, too jokey. There are only flashes of the bitterness that consumed and ultimately destroyed him. The main display of that bitterness comes in an invented scene in which Nixon phones Frost in his hotel room, and pours out his bitterness. No excessive liberty was taken in the invention of the scene as a device to display this critical aspect of Nixon's persona, but it goes further than that by also distorting the plot. In the imagined conversation, Nixon heightens the supposed collision between them ("I shall come at you with everything I got") and that only one of them can win. (But that wasn't the deal.) And this supposed conversation supposedly inspires Frost to try harder, which supposedly leads to Frost nailing Nixon, which never happened. Langella deftly shows that Nixon was a strange man, awkward with small talk, uneasy with people, but Langella's Nixon becomes an almost sympathetic figure, and also a jokey one, the one we most want to see, in order to have more laughs. But Nixon wasn't funny. And he certainly wasn't the likeable figure of Frost/Nixon. (Yes, of course, some people liked him, but not very many, and not even his dog.) He was a tragic Shakespearean figure,

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