Friday, January 2, 2009

Frost/Nixon/Opie


When I arrived home from seeing Frost/Nixon I immediately ran to the computer to check out Ron Howard's filmography. I was looking for a reason why he was given this gem of a movie. I thought maybe I had missed something.

It has always been my assumption that certain scripts demand certain directors. Obviously a comedy deserves an Apatow/McKay type director. A courtroom drama deserves a Lumet-type director. So where in the wide, wide, world of sports did someone come up with the idea that Ron Howard should be directing this film? And since when is he considered one of "the" directors? Don't get me wrong. I like the guy. Splash, Cocoon, Parenthood. He's an entertaining director. Just not a great director. And what Frost/Nixon needed was a great director.

Since we can easily view the original interviews on YouTube, the entertainment doesn't lie in front of the interviewing camera, but behind it. And it was here that I was expecting an All The Presdient's Men/Zodiac type fact gathering treatment as Frost and his team prepared to give Nixon the trial he never had. Here Frank Langella shines. As Nixon, he knows this interview is a slam dunk, but he's still looking for a formidable foe in Frost. But Michael Sheen never delivers the gigantic ego that David Frost possesses. Instead, he walks through the entire film with the wide eyes of a 10 year old frightened child. And rather than let the scenes capture the emotions of the times, Ron Howard relies on the laziest of narration - the one on one interview with the principles involved in the movie. It's a cop-out and a glaring sign that Howard doesn't trust his audience to keep up. Or he doesn't trust himself to deliver any real drama.

On the surface, this movie seems like a no-brainer. And it looks like Hollywood approached it that way. Let's just cast the stars of the theater production for the movie, then turn on the camera and let them chew up the scenes like it was a well seasoned piece of meat. And in looking at it that way, you really could have had anyone behind the camera. Maybe that's why they picked Ronnie. He was the least likely person to screw it up with any kind of... oh I don't know... directorial style. Only that's what screwed up this movie. It risks nothing. Ron delivers the movie almost as if it were a documentary. He adds no point of view. And then one wonders what he really brings to the table. A couple of dozen movies to his career, could anyone really say what kind of a director Ron Howard is? Or wants to be?

I am more angry that Frost/Nixon was an average movie, than I would have been if it would have been a terrible movie. All the pieces were there. Except the director. Andy, go fetch the fishing-pole, Opie is in the creek and he's in way over his head.

14 comments:

Allen L. said...

The wife and I happened to get caught up in a promo "doc" for Ron Howard the other day that was to publicize this flick.
About halfway through it became a game of, "Wait, has Ron Howard ever directed a truly good movie????"
The answer?
No.
The closest he came was Apollo 13 and in the interview he talks about just letting the script do the work.
Meaning, when Howard lets someone ELSE do the work for him he succeeded.
Splash? Yeah, it's cute, but the disbelief you suspend over a living mermaid is wiped away by the cartoon performance of the scientist.
He has never made a movie that wasn't cloying and unrealistic.
But, then again, why not? He has been in the entertainment business since he was 4. How could he live anywhere but a bubble of cloy?
Oh, and don't say Parenthood, since that's just a sitcom made into movie.
Yeah. Bad director.
Bad
Bad
Bad director.

except for Gung Ho.

Or the Grinch.

Blurg.

PIPER said...

Allen L.

I was never a huge fan of Apollo 13. As a parent, I personally enjoyed Parenthood very much. And I thought Gung Ho was an honest movie and is probably more relevant now than it was then. The Grinch?

Burbanked said...

I've always found Howard's appeal to be a curious thing. As you point out, not a single one of his movies could be classified as "outstanding", yet he works consistently, with consistently great people, and churns out films that are...well, consistent. I always felt that RANSOM was his attempt to answer such critics by creating something edgy and violent, but for my taste it goes so far over the top that it feels silly instead of scary.

Still, I watched the special on whatever cable channel it was on the other day - TCM maybe? - where Howard goes through each of his movies and tells a bit about them, and I have to admit that I watched damn near every minute of it. He's an engaging, enthusiastic guy who lends such a "regular Joe" quality to his work that it's hard to turn away.

I don't think he'll ever be anything but a "fine", "decent" director. But many of his movies are basically strong, watchable and inoffensive. I'm sure Hollywood views him as a stalwart, dependable guy who reliably returns on the investment, and it's sure hard to argue with the show business logic of that.

Allen L. said...

watchable and inoffensive. Yeah, that's a legacy.
The man has an oscar, for god's sake. For no reason except that he's well liked.
It's a crazy thing because my perception of his movies are that they are better than they really are.
They are really not good.
I don't hate the guy. i would happily act for him. But I think the problem with pop culture today is systemic and I think this is one of the reasons.
He is hailed for mediocrity.
The mediocrity is hailed as art.
The art sucks.
ergo.

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

Frost/Nixon wasn't bad, but it was totally carried by Langella and Sheen. I knew that there was something in the movie, just below the surface, but it was kind of boring...in an engaging way.

Howard is just generally a boring director. I can't think of any movie of his I've seen that I was completely into.

Ray said...

Piper, you nailed it, methinks.

The film is pedestrian when it should be engrossing. Michael Sheen is so lightweight here that he barely registers until that neat moment near the end when he finally goes after Nixon.

Another problem I had with the film is how stagey it is. I realize the source is a stage play ... but isn't it the job of an adapting director to flesh out the material and make it "cinematic?" Otherwise, what's the point of making it into a movie?

To me, Howard is an overrated director. He came out of the gates with a couple of hugely successful films - which gave him instant Hollywood clout - but has proven since then that he is merely an everage director. The greats elevate medicore material; Howard slips into it like it's a comfy blanket.

PIPER said...

Burbanked,

Unfortunately, Howard's formula for success seems to be exactly what Hollywood desires. It's depressing really.

Paul,

I thought that Sheen failed in his portrayal. Langella did a very good job.

Ray,

You're exactly right about the stagy-ness of it. It's the problem with stage productions brought to the big screen and Mamet's adaptations suffer from this from time to time. It's dialogue on dialogue. Not really anyone reacting to one another.

MovieMan0283 said...

I think you're all a bit too hard on Opie. He comes from a long, long line of directors who do a serviceable job on good scripts. Such are the bread-and-butter of Hollywood and were they to disappear overnight, their replacements would probably not be gritty auteurs like Sam Fuller and Sam Peckinpah, but tasteless vulgarians whose grating sensibilities would make Howard look like Hitchcock (Frank Miller, anyone? Not knocking his comic books, but man can that man NOT direct...). Howard doesn't make great movies but he does make consistently entertaining ones...nothing wrong with that. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed Cocoon, Ransom, and Apollo 13. He doesn't have a "voice" and he isn't an "auteur" but I don't think he's overrated...I'd say consensus opinion has him pegged about where you all have pegged him.

Anonymous said...

Why does he always cast his goofy-looking brother? That's enough to submarine him in my anonymous eyes.

Allen L. said...

I believe that "Anonymous" is, in fact, Ron Howard.

PIPER said...

If Ron serves one purpose in this world, it is to keep his Clint working. I love that ugly son-of-a-bitch.

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

I think Sheen was supposed to look wildly unprepared and lost. The problem was that they didn't show enough of him behind the scenes - the reason he was distracted, the reason he was exiled. There was no hint of who he really, truly was. One minute he's talking to weed eaters, the next he's throwing himself into the project with w reckless abandon and is pretty much a genius. Why? It isn't Sheen's fault that we're not shown.

PIPER said...

Look Paul, I know you're president of the better treatment of Michael Sheen... I agree with you. That was my problem and I couldn't really put my finger on it until your comment.

I give him the benefit of the doubt since he did the stage production which I have heard is very good.

Pat said...

Piper - Your thoughts here are very similiar to mine. I enjoyed "Frost/Nixon" but it occurred to me that really all Howard had to do was put one camera on Sheen and the other on Langella and he had a pretty good show right there.

And,frankly, the originai interviews are not nearly as entertaining as the judiciously edited and dramatically punched-up excerpts in this film. Let's just that Richard Nixon was no Frank Langella.