That a film about a series of 1970s TV interviews could compel and electrify is credit to director Ron Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, TV’s The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies), who adapted his own play. The film re-stages David Frost’s exclusive but hard-fought audiences with former US president Richard Nixon, three years after he left office in disgrace over Watergate. Opening up the theatrical battle of wits with measured restraint to also show the behind-the-scenes manoeuvering, Howard invests in the quiet power of his practised leads, Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, who honed their roles in the original production. Morgan’s script gets right under the skin of the financially strapped, vanity-driven inquisitor and the morally beleaguered but in no way feckless politician. With support from Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell and Matthew Macfadyen (playing producer and future BBC director general John Birt), it’s impossible not to get caught up in the momentum of events, which evoke a more principled time before news-media saturation.
Welles, Hitchcock, Freud and Kafka all get a look-in in Martin Scorsese’s wild old-school psychological thriller, which sends Leo DiCaprio off to an island to investigate dark deeds at a spooky asylum.
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