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Review: 'Frost/Nixon'

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The movie's immediacy is obvious in this election year. What seems outdated about it is the resuscitation of Nixon in the era of George W. Bush. No doubt many in the audience will look at Nixon's transgressions and, comparing them with Bush's, conclude that he wasn't so horrible after all. In any case, Morgan doesn't simplify Nixon, and this is as it should be. It is a prerequisite of any principled biographer to do more than simply demonize his subject.

Oliver Stone was castigated in some quarters for not vilifying Dubya in his "W," but that was the least of that movie's problems. Morgan, a far more expansive and witty talent than Stone, has made something of a specialty of inhabiting the psyche of the ruling classes. From "The Deal" to "The Queen" to "The Last King of Scotland," he has cast a withering yet empathetic eye on royalty.

Clearly he sees Nixon as a tragic figure of near-Shakespearean proportions – Tricky Dick as Richard III. Langella fills out Morgan's conception. At first it's difficult to accept him as this president – the facial resemblance, the gait, the height, the intonations, are all subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, off. I kept expecting the entire enterprise to lapse into "Saturday Night Live" territory. But about halfway through the movie Langella won me over. He has a most unenviable task – impersonating a legendary public figure – but his actor's wiles successfully complete the deception. His performance may be a species of stunt, a high-wire act, but he never falls off the wire. (For an even more daring Nixon rendition, check out Philip Baker Hall in Robert Altman's 1984 "Secret Honor.")

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