I'm going to be the bad guy here and say that this was a pretty big disappointment. The problem really lies in what this is about- the interviews between Frost and Nixon, that's really the source material, never mind the stage play for a minute. Now, the reality is that what is depicted in this film is pretty different from what actually happened. For me, it takes its artistic licence a bit too far to the extent that what we get here, is actually less-effective than what actually happened.
Firstly though, I have to say that the performances here didn't really do much for me. Sheen didn't really seem like Frost at all with his performance suggesting a man relatively unable to go face to face with Nixon but in reality he was very much present and aware and that's not really shown enough here, it feels held back for dramatic purposes and leaves Frost's character feeling somewhat stale in comparison to Nixon.
Langella certainly makes for a convincing Nixon but his performance feels suited to another film altogether- save the 'spirit of the man' kind of performance for a biopic, because this is supposed to be a retelling of a fairly short period of time during which Nixon behaved in a specific way and here it feels like that is ignored and replaced instead with a dramatization of Nixon that, while strong, feels more like a vague imitation of the real Nixon mixed with a different person entirely. The acting may be strong but all of the precise characteristics of Nixon feel missing. It feels like a cut-out more than a true depiction.
On top of that, there's not much else going on performance-wise that's really trying to be impactful. Bacon's character feels cliché and Rockwell isn't having to do much out of the normal with his part. It all feels a bit too mechanical and hyped-up which suggests to me that the film didn't feel confident enough to deliver on its premise in a realistic way and instead had to resort to some of the typical Hollywoodized approaches such as you might find in an, um... Ron Howard movie.
The next issue is historical stuff- sure this isn't a documentary and it has to be entertaining but everywhere you look, things seem manipulated as if trying to squeeze life out of a dead-on-arrival idea. The film dismisses Frost's first interviews as failures in order to build up to the final one but in reality they were all well-conducted, Nixon's defences of his actions are often cut out here and the dialogue is cropped to make it seem as if he was more revealing than he really was, there's a completely fabricated phone call that is clearly there to try and create tension that didn't really exist, it's implied that Frost felt unhappy with his performances at first which is again untrue- it's clutching at straws really and worst yet, some of the truly fascinating events that did occur in the final interview, are watered-down here take for example Nixon's attempts to lower the pressure by trying to be funny at crucial points in the interview.
Take it further still- were the events themselves really deserving of a film? A dramatic re-enactment of some television interviews? The big stuff happens before this film starts- Watergate is over with as is Nixon's presidency. Sure, the interviews got strong ratings and for good reason too but are we going to see a series of films based on interviews with political figures because that'd get older than the Fast & Furious franchise in a heartbeat?
Anyway, I've covered the stuff I take issue with but that was certainly a little one-sided. Overall, it's an entirely fine experience- if you have only a passing interest in the events then you might enjoy this portrayal and if we imagine the performances were of fictional characters then they'd all be good. It is also a drama so it's not entirely fair to pick out all of its inaccuracies when it's only trying to make the experience better. The script is good at getting a lot of the bigger stuff in there and certainly at building it all up and it's both eloquent and witty and as a stand-alone element, possibly the strongest feature of the film.
The story is interesting enough to be entertaining and the glossy visuals seem to fit well with Frost and make Nixon seem out of his comfort zone just by being in the film which is an interesting thing to see. It's also well-shot and flies by considering it hits the two-hour mark. It has the marks of experience that you'd expect from Howard and so even with all the issues, there's never an unpleasant experience.
The strong execution of the technical elements is enough to give this one a fresh rating but I'm still left feeling like it's a mountain out of a molehill- things are put here that never happened and everything feels desperate to meet your expectations but if you've seen the interviews then you already know what happens and will take nothing from this at all. If you just want a strong drama and dismiss entirely that this is based on real events, then it still doesn't seem to cut it because the story just isn't big enough- there's one section of real, harrowing, stuff and it's not enough to justify two-hours of film. This story makes a lot of sense as a play but on film, well it'd already been done- the real interviews.
Better recording and some actors to re-enact the thing in brief isn't bringing anything new to the table. I can see how the tension could fill a theatre, how a condensed re-telling of a minor moment in history could make for a good evening out but the cameras here capture little that's truly impactful and when such occurrences arrive they are too contrived. This is neither a bad nor good film- it's a bad film idea trying to be a good film. What's left is entirely OK but nothing more.