Over the weekend LF and I caught up with two movies, “Valkyrie” and “Frost/Nixon.”
Both movies suffer from a similar problem, though each is the flipside of the other. Valkyrie has a tremendous supporting cast around a pretty mediocre lead. Tom Cruise, while he tries hard and at least doesn’t look like a kid anymore, attempts to be serious but just looks stiff. Meanwhile, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branaugh, Terence Stamp, Bill Nighy and David Bamber orbit the vacuum with compelling performances.
On the other hand, “Frost/Nixon” has a ring of uninteresting one-dimensional performances wrapped around the amazing work of Frank Langella. He was “channeling” Nixon to the point where, 2/3 of the way through, it was hard to remember what the original Nixon looked or sounded like.
Another common thread between the two was the feeling we had of, “is that really how it happened?” The plot to assassinate Hitler in Valkyrie involved dozens of people, and got so far as to have military units mobilized in the streets with orders to take over the government. The Berlin police department was on board and, even for the small fact that Hitler actually survived the bombing, it was so well-organized it was hard to believe it actually failed, and so easily.
As for Frost/Nixon, David Frost is portrayed as a lightweight, a jovial playboy talkshow host given to covering trivialities. He’s easily cowed and flustered, and is too lazy to do his homework until the last minute. I was but a lad in college at the time, but I remember thinking when word first came out that Frost would be doing the interview that he was a good pick for it, someone who could ask the tough questions.
Nixon meanwhile — and this is totally believable — is canny, manipulative and surprising. Of all the invectives cast at him over the years, after all, “naive” and “stupid” were not among them. He gets Frost off-guard with the greatest of ease, and is a few steps ahead of him at every point. Nixon was a guy who went head-to-head with Mao and Kruschev, not the mention Henry Kissinger, so it’s hard to believe that Frost would be so careless and unprepared.
The DVD features the original Frost/Nixon interviews, by the way; in comparison, Langella plays a different kind of Nixon. One that comes from the same basic insecurities but expresses them outwardly in a different way. Completely in character but never does he stoop to anything as simple as a mere Nixon impersonation.
So two more-or-less-true tales of out-of-control governments, and the people who tried to bring them to account. A mixed bag all around. I’d like to give Valkyrie three stars, but the hole in the middle of the cast ultimately makes it a much less impactful movie. So maybe 2 1/2. Frost/Nixon on the other hand I’d give 3, on the basis of the one big performance at the core.