Film Notes: Frost/Nixon and All The President’s Men

Over forty years ago on June 17, 1972 five men broke into the Democratic Party’s National Headquartes in Watergate Building, Washington DC and that set off a chain of events that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. This was the first time an American President resigned from office.

The “burglars” as they came to be referred were eventually captured and that was just the tip of a politcal iceberg known as the Watergate scandal. When the scandal broke in June of 1972  Nixon was preparing for his re-election campaign and an investigation by the FBI was underway. Nixon went on to win the reelection and continued as the President of the United States for a second term.

In the menatime investigative reporting of of the Watergate scandal by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of  The Washington Post revealed an interesting and a complex network of activities that involved violations of campaign financing laws and wiretapping that helped in the reelection of PresidentNixon Bernstein and Woodward  covered the story for  2 years (1972-1974). Helping these two young  journalists stay focussed on the case was Ben Bradlee, the editor of paper. The reporters  uncovered tracks leading up to various Government department and powerful men in Nixon’s administration. Eventually in 1974 Nixon stepped down from the Presidency and his Veep Gerald Ford was appointed as the President.

Nixon went home to California, which is where he was born and brought up. As expected there were a lot of media folks interested in bagging an interview with Nixon to find out what really happened.The person, who succeeded in getting that exclusive Nixon interview was Robert Frost, a British talkshow host. Frost got to ask that buring question on why Nixon did not burn those incriminating tapes? Nixon spent nearly 2 weeks talking to Frost. An edited version of that interview was telecast in the US and elsewhere.

The Watergate Scandal and Frost’s exclusive interview with Nixon were tailor-made stories for Hollywood. They had the right mix of ingredients and made for a compelling narrative. And then there was the fact that Woodward and Bernstein had written a book about it called All The President’s Men. Hollywood made 2 interesting films. The first was All The President’s Men released in 1976, and the second one came almost 30 years later called Frost/Nixon.

The first film on Watergate scandal is director Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men. The film shows how Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Woodward (Robert Redford) got the first whiff of the scandal and how it ballooned into a much larger scandal involving some of the most powerful people in Washington DC. The movie walks you through the Watergate scandal and the crucial role played by Washinton Post’s editor Ben Bradlee played by Jason Robards. This is a must-watch film. The film satisfies that inner political junkie lurking inside of you, or if you are a history buff or if you are simply trying to get a picture of the scandal that rocked the American political landscape to its core.

The second film is Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon released in 2008. Howard’s Frost/Nixon takes you behind the scene and shows how Frost came to land this interview with Nixon, and how he prepared for the interview. Frank Langella, a well-known East Cosat theatre actor played the role of Nixon and Welsh actor Michael Sheen was cast as Richard Frost. At first I had a hard time accepting Langella as Nixon because of the physical dissimilarities. And then there was that fact that Langella looked very comfortable talking to the camera. Nixon, as many political observers and commentators have pointed out was never comfortable in front of the camera. What was also missing is that particular gaze of Nixon. “Shifty” is how some folks described that look. I know these might seem minor points to quibble, but they did nag me a tiny bit. Once, I overcome my initial resistance, I found the film to be an absorbing watch.

All The President’s Men and Frost/Nixon is available on Netflix.