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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The early buzz on 'Frost/Nixon' is frosty

October 15, 2008 | 12:02 pm

Kris Tapley's In Contention website has the first real review I've seen of "Frost/Nixon" and it's not good. Guy Lodge has few kind words for the Ron Howard film, which the Oscar soothsayers have been touting as a top contender in the Academy Awards demolition derby. In fact, the biggest problem with the movie, says Lodge, is the director himself, who seems miscast at the helm of the Frank Langella and Michael Sheen-starring adaptation of Peter Morgan's hit stage play. (Morgan did the adaptation himself.) As Lodge, who saw the picture at the London Film Festival, puts it:

"Howard responds to [Morgan's script] in the manner he knows best: with the most prosaic of visual aesthetics to hand, a doggedly linear approach to storytelling and the spotlight thrust squarely on a reliable pair of actors. Howard's hands-off direction makes for an oddly bloodless viewing experience, with a lot of talk standing in for any fresh perspective (or frankly, any perspective at all) on the events.... It's difficult to think of a director less-suited to take on the intricate, minutiae-obsessed writing of Peter Morgan than Howard, a director who, even in his finest films, has always been interested in the big picture first, with characters serving history rather than the other way around."

Frostnixonpic_3Lodge goes on to say the movie is undermined by a "sluggish" first hour where the film's historical context is "painted in broad, CliffNotes fashion, with a gallery of reconstructed talking-head interviews and distracting look-alike cameos in place of significant internal character development." He's not much more enthusiastic about Langella's turn as Nixon, which has been touted as a slam-dunk Oscar performance, calling it "broadly entertaining." As for Michael Sheen's Frost, Lodge says the actor's performance "quickly becomes one-note, offering neither the magnified subtlety or shading to make Frost a compellingly flawed hero, nor the firepower to match Langella's in the film's showy set-pieces."

I remain eager to see the film (perhaps Universal will eventually find time to show it to some of us lowly L.A. Timesians), but getting slapped around right out of the box isn't a good sign. The movie needs a raft of great reviews to build momentum for a film whose core audience is probably 50 and over. Universal hasn't had much luck lately with quality adult-oriented filmmaking, seeing audiences stay away in droves from "The Express" and "Flash of Genius," its two most recent releases. I liked both films, but they didn't get the kind of money reviews those projects need to survive at the multiplex. If this early notice is any indicator, "Frost/Nixon" may have a rocky ride ahead too.

Update: More bad news. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw has just weighed in. He doesn't like the movie either.

Photo of Frank Langella and Michael Sheen in "Frost/Nixon" from Universal Pictures