Frost/Nixon (2008)


Frost/Nixon is a 2008 historical drama film based on the play of the same name by Peter Morgan which dramatizes the Frost/Nixon interviews of 1977. The film version was directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment and Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner of Working Title Films for Universal Pictures. The film reunites its original two stars from the West End and Broadway productions of the play, Michael Sheen as British television broadcaster David Frost and Frank Langella as former United States President Richard Nixon.


A series of news reports documents the role of Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal, prior to his resignation speech. Meanwhile, David Frost has finished recording an episode of his talk show and watches on television as Nixon leaves the White House. A few weeks later in the London Weekend Television (LWT) central office, Frost discusses with his producer and friend, John Birt, the possibility of an interview. When Frost mentions Nixon as the subject, Birt doubts that Nixon would be willing to talk to Frost. Frost then tells Birt that 400 million people watched President Nixon's resignation on live television. Nixon is shown recovering from phlebitis at La Casa Pacifica, in San Clemente, California. He is discussing his memoirs with literary agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar, who tells the former president of a request by Frost to conduct an interview with an offer of $500,000, only after Lazar contacts Frost, the offer is increased to $600,000. Lazar contacts Frost to inform him that Nixon is interested, so Frost and Birt fly to California to meet with Nixon. While on the plane, Frost meets Caroline Cushing. At La Casa Pacifica, Frost makes the first partial payment of $200,000. However, Nixon's post-presidential chief of staff Jack Brennan doubts that Frost will be able to pay the entire amount. Frost is shown trying to sell interviews to the U.S. broadcast networks, but they all turn him down. Frost decides to finance the project with private money, and syndicate the broadcast of four interviews. He hires two investigators, Bob Zelnick and James Reston Jr. to dig for information along with Birt, focusing on the Watergate scandal. During the research process, Reston mentions a lead in the Federal Courthouse in D.C. that he thinks he can lock down with a week of work, but Frost decides against it. Over the first eleven recording sessions, each two and a half-hours long, Frost is shown struggling to ask planned questions of Nixon. Nixon is able to take up much of the time during the sessions by giving lengthy monologues, preventing Frost from challenging him. The former president fences ably on the Vietnam section and is able to dominate in the area where he had substantial achievements—foreign policy related to Russia and China. Frost's editorial team appears to be breaking apart as Zelnick and Reston express anger that Nixon appears to be exonerating himself, and Reston belittles Frost's abilities as an interviewer. Four days before the final session on Watergate, Frost is in his hotel room, waiting for Caroline to call him from a restaurant to bring him some food. When the phone rings, he answers with "I'll have a cheeseburger," only to discover that it is actually an inebriated Nixon on the other end of the line. The drunk Nixon tells Frost that they both know the final interview will make or break their careers. If Frost fails to implicate Nixon definitively in the Watergate scandal, then Frost will have allowed Nixon to revive his political career at Frost's own expense, who will have an unsellable series of interviews and be bankrupt. Nixon acknowledges that he feels a certain amount of socioeconomic kindredship with Frost, but goes on to assure him that he will do everything in his power to emerge the victor from the final interview. The conversation spurs Frost into action, as, until now, having spent most of his time selling the show to networks and gaining advertisers, Frost resolves to ensure that the final interview will be successful. He calls Reston and tells him to follow up on the federal courthouse hunch and works relentlessly for three days. As the final recording begins, Frost is a much sterner adversary, providing damning information about Charles Colson, resulting in Nixon admitting that he did unethical things, but "defending" himself with the statement, "When the President does it, it's not illegal!" Frost is shocked by this statement, and asks if the president took part in a cover-up, at which point Brennan bursts in and stops the recording as Nixon is visibly unable to answer. After Nixon and Brennan confer in a side room, Nixon returns to the interview, admitting that he participated in a cover-up and that he "let the American people down." Shortly before Frost returns to the UK, he and Caroline visit Nixon in his villa. Frost thanks Nixon for the interviews and gives him a pair of Italian shoes as a gift. Nixon, realizing he has lost, however, does graciously thank Frost in return and wishes him well in future endeavors. Nixon then asks to speak to Frost privately. Nixon asks if he had really called Frost before the final interview and if they had spoken about anything important. Frost replies that Nixon did indeed call and they talked about cheeseburgers. Reston says that Nixon's lasting legacy was the suffix "Gate" being added to any political scandal. The epilogue tells the audience that Nixon wrote a biography about himself, but never escaped controversy, until his death in 1994.