"When the President does it, it's not illegal."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 journalist/comedian David Frost and Frank Langella as former United States President Richard Nixon
This film provides examples of:
- Affably Evil: Nixon is pretty witty throughout.
- Age Lift: Swifty Lazaar was six years older than Richard Nixon but Toby Jones, who plays Swifty, is nearly thirty years younger than Frank Langella, who plays Nixon.
- Artistic License – History: Ron Howard discusses in the DVD-commentary how he deliberately used dramatic license as the late-night phone call never happened and on the other hand talks about how Nixon's biography includes not so distant episodes.
- The movie also ignores that Frost and Nixon were already well-acquainted: Frost had interviewed Nixon during the '68 Presidential campaign, and Nixon even invited Frost to host his 1970 White House Christmas party. It's certainly true, though, that Nixon and his aides didn't take Frost seriously at first.
- Berserk Button: Nixon does not like being questioned about Watergate.
- Big Fancy House: La Casa Pacifica.
- Breaking Speech: Richard Nixon attempts to do this to Frost with a late night phone call, but as his drunken ramblings progress, all his lines only reveal how broken and full of self-loathing he is. Frost doesn't need to say Shut Up, Hannibal!- he knows that all he needs to do is corner Nixon and the man will destroy himself.
- Chekhov's Gun: Reston wants to check out some transcripts at the federal courthouse. No, waste of time, everyone assures him.
- Expecting Someone Taller: Inverted. Upon seeing Nixon in person, Reston declares he's taller than he'd imagined. This is because Frank Langella, who plays Nixon, is about five inches taller than the President.
- Golden Snitch: Due to the necessity of creating more tension for the dramatization. Unlike what happened in real life, Nixon is in control for three of the four interviews, but Frost's success with the last one determines the whole outcome. There is Lampshade Hanging of this done by the Narrator.
- Hard Work Montage: Frost after the drunk phone call.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Jack Brennan as played by Kevin Bacon is a humourless military man devoted to Nixon, who threatens to ruin Frost if he makes Nixon look bad. In Real Life, Brennan, a former Marine, is known for his kind and friendly personality with Diane Sawyer noting him as "The funniest guy you'll ever meet". David Frost called him a "delightful man" and had such praise for him and the rest of the Nixon team that he once said if they were his White House staff, the whole Watergate scandal might have been averted because they could have talked Nixon out of it.
- Honor Before Reason: Nixon claims this as his reason for not informing authorities of his men's actions, noting he had known them since they were children. He later calls his mistakes "Mistakes of the heart, not of the head".
- Hypocritical Humor: The researcher who despises Nixon swears he'll never shake hands with him; he does so moments later, stunned by being face-to-face with an ex-President of the United States.
- It Has Been an Honor: Nixon's drunk phone call.
- It's All About Me: Nixon can be like this at times. When answering questions about Vietnam, he frames answers by playing up his own moral strength and turning his decision into a noble self-sacrifice, casting himself as an undeserving victim. Snidely lampshaded by Jim who responds to Nixon's claims of "Being the last casualty of the Vietnam War" with a bitter "Tell that to the amputees".
- Mind Screw: Nixon is a master at this, including a hilarious moment when he asks Frost if he'd spent the night fornicating moments before the cameras start rolling. Subverted when Nixon rings up Frost in the middle of his Heroic BSOD; at first it appears he's trying to further damage Frost's morale, but Nixon is actually drunk. When Frost realises just before his final interview that Nixon can't remember the conversation, it's our first sign that the advantage has passed to Frost.
- Money, Dear Boy: In-Universe, Nixon's reason for agreeing to be interviewed in the first place.
- Never My Fault: Nixon refuses to accept any responsibility for Watergate, which is partly why Frost and Co. want to do the interview: They want him to finally confess and admit his own guilt.
- Nice to the Waiter: Nixon is portrayed as being quite a pleasant man in this film, his relationship with Jack Brennan being almost fatherly. Whether it averts or sticks to the rule of this trope depends on your view.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Nixon's late night phone call motivates a demoralised Frost to get off his butt and start prepping for the crucial Watergate interview.
- Not So Different: The phone call about self-made men struggling against the "snobs".
"Well, to hell with that! We're not going to let that happen, either of us. We're going to show those bums, we're going to make 'em choke on our continued success, our continued headlines. Our continued awards, and power, and glory! We are gonna make those motherfuckers choke!
- Papa Wolf: Inverted. Jack Brennan is extremely protective of Nixon, who serves as a father figure, and threatens to ruin Frost if he damages his image.
- Pet the Dog: After the last interview, Nixon plays this completely straight.
- Precision F-Strike: The usually elegant Nixon going on an enraged rant ending with "We are gonna make the motherfuckers choke!"
- Rule of Drama: The two had considerably less riding on the outcome of the interviews than is implied.
- Speech-Centric Work: Both play and film.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Nixon honestly believes he averted this.
Nixon: When the President does it, it's not illegal.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Jack Brennan is actually quite funny and not all that stern, Nixon got 20% of the ad revenue from the interviews enticing him to want to get more people to watch it, there was no midnight call about "Cheeseburgers," and Frost thought he did a great job on the first three interviews. Also, the film overstates the impact of the interviews: Many in the media felt that Nixon got the best of Frost, Nixon didn't admit to anything that wasn't already public knowledge, and the ratings of the interviews dropped dramatically after the first night (when all of the Watergate material was discussed).
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: A very short one reminding the viewers that Nixon's corrupt actions as President haunted him until his death in 1994 and that what he is most remembered for now is creating the -gate suffix to any political scandal. It also has information about Frost.
- Worthy Opponent: Nixon calls Frost this in the final scene.