“Frost/Nixon” was one of those Best Picture nominated films that sadly didn’t get as much attention as it deserved. Despite its limited exposure, it’s a great movie to watch for both its historical value and as a study of how a hero and villain can be so nearly identical.
In most movies, it’s not easy to recognize how closely the hero and villain are nearly alike, but in “Frost/Nixon,” this similarity is easier to spot.
The basic plot behind “Frost/Nixon” follows the actual story of talk show host David Frost’s efforts to interview former President Richard Nixon. The stories of both men follow extremely similar arcs.
David Frost is stuck as a sensationalist talk show host, which is essentially a dead-end life. Richard Nixon is stuck making banal speeches to uncaring organizations. Both men want to make a name for themselves as more than their current reputation.
David Frost watches Richard Nixon’s resignation and gets the idea to interview him despite everyone telling him he’s crazy. Using his own money, David Frost pays an initial fee to get Richard Nixon to commit. Richard Nixon sees a possible interview with David Frost as a way to clear his name and establish his reputation once and for all.
David Frost gets Richard Nixon to agree to the interview. Now all he needs is enough money to produce the interviews since nobody thinks it will work. Richard Nixon believes that David Frost is nothing more than a talk show host who will be in awe of his presence, so he believes it will be easy to enhance his reputation at the expense of David Frost.
David Frost gets the help of several researchers to help him prepare for his interview and sets the condition of the interviews where each interview will last a fixed period of time and focus on a single topic. Nixon and Frost agree to save the subject of Watergate for last.
The interview begins and despite David Frost’s attempt to corner Nixon about Watergate, Nixon deftly manages to avoid the question, babble on about useless information, and waste time without giving David Frost much of a chance to probe deeper for more questions.
The next interview goes even worse for David Frost as his attempts to corner Nixon about Vietnam go nowhere and Nixon begins to repair his reputation at the expense of David Frost. Every time Frost comes up with a possibly touchy question, Nixon manages to turn it around and make himself look better.
David Frost’s researchers are nearly in a mutiny watching him come off looking so helpless. In contrast, Nixon’s researchers are ecstatic that he’s managing to look so polished. As David Frost ponders the last interview about Watergate, he realizes that one of his researchers might have uncovered some unpublished information. The night before, Nixon calls Frost, taunts him, and says that by the end of the interview, only one man’s reputation will come out ahead.
At the final interview, Frost corners Nixon about the unpublished information he found, which contradicts what Nixon had publicly said about Watergate. Unable to respond, Nixon admits that he made mistakes, that he failed the country, and that he created his own downfall. Frost has won and Nixon has lost.
When you think of a typical hero and villain such as Bruce Willis as the hero in “Die Hard” and Hans the lead terrorist as the villain, you may not see the similarities between the two. However when you see “Frost/Nixon,” you can see how closely David Frost and Richard Nixon are in their goal of establishing their reputation at the expense of the other person. They have a clear goal and only one man can possibly win. The winner will regain his reputation while the loser will fade into the background with his tattered reputation.
“Frost/Nixon” provides a unique look at a hero and villain who pursue nearly identical goals much like Rocky vs. Apollo Creed in “Rocky.” In “Die Hard,” the hero just wants to save his wife while the villain just wants to get away with the money, which are two different goals.
When your hero has a different goal than your villain, you have to find a way to make them collide such as “Die Hard.” When your hero has the same goal as your villain such as “Rocky” or “Frost/Nixon,” it’s actually much easier to see how your hero and villain have to clash and fight to the bitter end.