Primary among the pluses is the ability of a fictionalized account of a historic situation to show more than we know from a quick reading of the facts. Dramatizing an event allows the writer and director to cull information from many sources and put it together in a way you would be unable yourself without doing the same thing. Instead of a series of news accounts or entries in a history book, you are presented with a streamlined, even optimized version of the story.
But just because they're laid out neatly doesn't mean you're getting either the real facts, or the essence of the truth.
An adaptation from life necessarily had to compromise, for dramatic intent, for clarity, and for brevity - most people wouldn't pay money to sit through all two and a half days of the original David Frost interview, with more time added for behind the scenes developments.
But maybe some will return to the broadcast version of the stunning cat-and-mouse game between the British journalist and disgraced President, and find some extra illumination about both that time, and how it has echoed into our present.
You may be struck, as I was, by Nixon's charm, his command of the language, his legal prowess. Mostly, you will see how far he is from the caricature usually summoned by impersonators and comedians.
The real Nixon has an apparently limitless ability to split hairs, to restructure and reiterate a statement Frost has made by couching it in a new interpretation that absolves him if not of guilt than at least of guilty intention.
There's the feeling of a chess game to the interview; of two masters angling for their own version of the truth with gambits and the foresight of ten moves ahead. Nixon particularly shows an uncanny brilliance in covering his attacks on Frost in so much tact that they sound like self-deprecation.
You will be struck by the deep understanding Nixon has of the psyche of the American people, and gain an appreciation of how
But the way his modus operandi echos into the present is the frightening part. Nixon coached Dean and Haldeman for their grand jury testimony: "...say I don't remember, I can't recall" -- like he was setting the blueprint for Ollie North and Contra, not to mention the Bush administration's testimony for the 9/11 commission and the Supreme Court firing scandal.
And Nixon states with finality that his resignation was a "voluntary impeachment," calculated to spare the U.S. the chaos of a long drawn-out process of formalizing the charge, and says prophetically that no President will ever be subjected to what he was again without voluntarily impeaching himself. There can be no more damning presage to the difference between the treatment of Clinton (who submitted to the proceedings, despite the unconstitutionality of the charge) and Bush (who ignored the impeachment chatter and was left entirely alone).
Nixon also characterizes his main complicity in the entire Watergate affair as his possibly bad judgment in giving Erlichman and the others legal advice. Then, again hinting at the philosophy of Cheney-to-come, says that if he was going to perpetrate a cover-up, it would have succeeded. His proposal? That after the election, he could have simply given clemency to everyone involved.
I will remember as well the beautiful way Nixon had of putting Frost on the spot - turning his question back, to ask HIS advice, the technique that backfired when Frost laid out what he would say to atone... and the expression on Nixon's face like a chasm yawned beneath him, which he replaced almost immediately with that charming smile.I'll take a warning from the naked anger immediately covered by a broad smile and a subtle joke: first an almost out-of-control repetition of "Now, just one moment..." before quipping about an article and popular book by some "unnamed journalists".
And I was moved by the heartbreaking candor in his admission that he cried when he admitted out loud that he'd let down the American people... but is it just another gambit from a master of human psychology?
Maybe Nixon himself best summed up his view on his Presidency, his fall, and his continued commitment to his own integrity: "A man in that top job has to have a heart, but his head always has to rule his heart."