A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although kids may not be clamoring to see this talky, fairly intense political thriller, it serves as an informative introduction for teens (and adults) who want to know more about Watergate and how it brought down a sitting president. That said, the movie isn't 100 percent representative of real-life events, so more background/research may be needed. The main content of concern is a fair bit of swearing (mostly in the second half) and some heated back and forth between characters. There's also some archival footage from Vietnam, some social drinking and smoking, and a little bit of ogling/innuendo.
What's the story?
In 1977, British TV producer/presenter David Frost (Michael Sheen) sat down with Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) -- easily one of the most controversial presidents in American history -- for a 28-hour tete-a-tete. Villified by media critics for not being a serious journalist (one character describes him acrimoniously as a "TV show host" who pays for the interview, no less) and unable to wrangle investors, Frost stakes his reputation and cash on his ability make the sit-down a momentous TV event. To do so, he must elicit a confession from Nixon, whose scandal-tinged resignation is now three years behind him. And the president has his own agenda, too: preserving what's left of his legacy. Two men, one victor. Who will it be?
Is it any good?
Director Ron Howard (working off a script penned by The Queen's Peter Morgan) keeps a steady hand at the tiller, balancing wonky political material with finely tuned dramatic pacing and framing. FROST/NIXON sets up the talks as if they were a boxing match, with Frost as the charismatic but overwhelmed fighter in one corner, and Nixon morphing from cautious and confident to cornered in the other. It's a power face-off, and Frost seems poised for victory. But is it a victory when your opponent allows you to punch him right on the nose? Or is it his victory for choosing to lose? As depicted, the interview humanizes Nixon, and the nation finally gets a denouement -- thanks to him. And Nixon, in the end, gets his "way back into the sun," if only briefly. It's no neat conclusion, but the film smartly embraces the ambiguity, which makes it appealing ... and frustrating. Despite two hours of hearing the two men talk, we know neither of them (nor their motivations) convincingly.
Langella deserves the kudos that critics began heaping on him when he first took on the role in the stage play on which the film is based. His Nixon isn't an exact facsimile but rather a weathered, haunting, hulking impression. As Frost, Sheen is on the nose, as is Kevin Bacon as Nixon's earnest protector, Jack Brennan. But Rebecca Hall is mere window dressing as Frost's girlfriend, there to amuse the president ever so briefly (she's charming, but the distraction diminishes the film's impact slightly). And while the embellishments in the storytelling may have political history aficionados crying foul, they make for fine drama.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's historical accuracy. Why might filmmakers bend the facts when making a movie based on real life? How could you find out more about Nixon and Watergate if you wanted to? Parents and teens can also discuss why they think Nixon agreed to the interview with Frost in the first place. What did he gain from it? Do you think media exposure/coverage generally helps or hurts politicians? Why? How would you describe the relationship between the media and political worlds?
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