It’s become something of a movie geek pastime to bash Ron Howard’s work.
Now, this largely has to do with his middle-of-the-road populism (God forbid he make movies that are commercial successes while garnering mild critical praise), but the cardinal offense was probably that his feel-good schizophrenia epic “A Beautiful Mind” won Best Picture over Peter Jackson’s first “Lord of the Rings” film. Keep in mind that, on its winning spree, it picked up an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Akiva Goldsman, a man who had written the scripts for such critical darlings as “Batman Forever,” “Batman & Robin,” and “Lost in Space.” Oh, the reign of carnage never ended that night.
But when you get down to it, Howard is a solid, if unexceptional, filmmaker, able to churn out perfectly enjoyable (if somewhat over sentimentalized) product every couple of years. Occasionally, he makes really, really good movies (like “Ransom” or “Splash”) and sometimes he makes really, really terrible movies (“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” say, or “The Missing”).
In short: he’s an average director.; one that doesn’t deserve such vitriolic lambasting.
And I hope “Frost/Nixon” shut all those haters up, because this is a good movie that borders on being a great one.
Based on the stage play by “The Queen’s” Peter Morgan (I saw it in New York but it originated in London), it dramatizes the television face-off of hack-y talk show personality David Frost and former president/evil genius Richard Nixon. At the time it was a television sensation, and racked up huge ratings, but Howard and company are more interested in the behind-the-scenes machinations.
Since this is really all there is to the story, it takes a couple of powerhouse performances to anchor the whole production. Thankfully, the stage play’s original dynamic duo of Michael Sheen (as Frost) and Frank Langella (as Nixon) return for the film.
I was originally wary of the play’s adaptation, but Ron Howard has stacked the deck in his favor, lining up a truly awe-inspiring supporting cast to serve as the camps of the two adversaries. Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones, Matthew Macfayden, Sam Rockwell, and Oliver Platt all do wonderful jobs in largely thankless roles, but thanks to Morgan’s keen script and Howard’s smart direction, they all come off as integral components in the intellectual cage match of “Frost/Nixon.”
While the film is structured very much like a boxing movie, with each camp training vigorously for the big match, Howard chose to shoot and edit the movie like a tense political thriller.
Howard gives just the right amount of historical back story and thrusts the plot forward with savvy editing choices and a whirling, swirling camera that seems to glide between actors and scenes on its own accord, all set to the tense, militaristic score by Hans Zimmer (one of his best).
If it’s not a great film (there are a couple of flabby moments), then it’s at least a very, very good film, easily one of Ron Howard’s best.
One of the more interesting aspects of “Frost/Nixon” is the way it mixes real life historical footage, culled from televised news reports, with the dramatic movie footage. While it made for a striking theatrical presentation, it seemed a worrisome prospect in high def – how, exactly, would this look, when grainy stock footage bumped up against glistening 1080p?
As it turns out, the 2.35:1 VC-1 encoded disc boasts a fairly impressive image.
The movie has a muted color palette that never seems washed out. The archival footage sits alongside the movie well, with a seamless transition. When the detail is amped up in the new footage, it’s staggering. At one point, there’s a scene where light is coming from outside and the beam of light seems to illuminate pieces of dust coming off an actor’s jacket. The image is that clear and crisp.
Since this doesn’t rely on any of the big time Hollywood clichés (special effects, explosions, etc.), it’s the little things that matter. And those little things shine through on this disc.
Again: contrast and detail are remarkable; skin tones look good, and the period detail never leaps off the screen to outshine the performances (this was the orange-and-gold-obsessed 1970’s – the threat was there). There aren’t a whole lot of blacks as in moonless nights black, but the movie does contain many deep, velveteen shadows, and the image represents these beautifully here.
Again, the DTS-HD Master 5.1 works wonderfully for the movie. And again: this movie isn’t one with a lot of opportunities for surround sound usage (there aren’t any gunshots or alien spacecraft zooming around), but the sound here is crisp and well done.
The mix is mostly front-centered, which isn’t shocking for a film with this kind of emphasis on dialogue. Still, the rear channel stuff is subtle and clear, and there are moments when the surround elements are used – Nixon’s motorcade, a scene of air travel, and whenever there are many team members in the room.
The other interesting note to the sound mix should be how great Hans Zimmer’s score sound. It really thunders, adding much weight and suspense to the events of the film.
Overall, an excellent mix.
Also available as sound options: dubs in Spanish and French (5.1), with subtitles in English (SDH), Spanish, and French.
Thankfully, Universal has chosen to include a nice assortment of special features that illuminate both the history of the event and the production of the film. It should also be noted that all of these special features can be utilized by using the U-Control feature, accessible through your remote or the main menu (which also includes a short video tutorial on how to use U-Control). For probably the first time in my encounters with the feature, Universal has added some neat U-Control content (more on that in a couple of sections). U-Control is also where you can store your bookmarked scenes.
This is a wonderful, wonderful disc. It’s a great movie, one of last year’s finest, and the disc is exemplary – loaded with commendable audio and video content and a whole host of engaging extras. It goes a long way in proving that a movie doesn’t have to be stocked with explosions and special effects to be an outstanding Blu Ray disc. In short: They don't come more HIGHLY RECOMMENDED than this.