A man’s shoes should have laces

January 9, 2009


That’s a tricky one. What do you think? Should a man’s shoes have laces? Are slip-ons somehow… effeminate?

This is at the heart of Frost/Nixon, the Ron Howard film of the Peter Morgan play. The film could be called Lace-ups/Slip-ons. You most probably know who wins, or which kind of shoe wins. I wrote the other day of Japanese Fighting Fish. Here’s two more. And Morgan makes this a fight to remember. It’s Rumble in the Jungle II with Michael Sheen’s Frost doing the Ali rope-a-dope routine. Except Muhammad Ali was acting. This David Frost really is a dope. He Interviewed Nixon over four long sessions, and for the first three rounds Tricky Dicky had him tight up against those ropes. Lost Frost; only in the game for ratings and fame; is eventually shocked into action. Not by the hectoring of his passionate production team and researchers, but by a film-stealing late night phone call from his opponent.

The win goes the right way; but there is confusion here. This viewer enjoyed the TKO more for what it meant to Frost’s cornermen, James Reston Jnr. (Sam Rockwell) and Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt). Sure, we’re kind of pleased for Frost, and he is gracious towards his foe. But Frost takes our heads, our hearts go elsewhere.

Peter Morgan has a habit of making us warm to those we might view as aloof, or even bad, corrupt, dangerous. He changes our views, and often through combat. Look at the battles on offer in his canon; Tony Blair V Gordon Brown in The Deal; The Queen V Tony Blair in The Queen (guess who wins that one: there’s a clue in the title); a doctor V Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. And now he writes The Damned United, which I know little about but I’m going to plump for that fight being Brian Clough V The World.

And, jumping from one thing to another, what’s the deal with Michael Sheen? He’s been Tony Blair (twice… good Blair/Bad Blair –The Queen/ The Deal), Kenneth Williams (Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa by Martyn Hesford, based on Kenneth Williams’ diaries) and now Brian Clough, yet again with Peter Morgan. I bet if he could put political correctness into a time machine and swap it for a 1970’s Mind Your Language/ Love thy Neighbour collective mentality, he’d have blacked up for Idi Amin.

He’s very good though.

And so’s Frank Langella as Nixon. No impersonations here. No lookalikes. Just that mysterious thing called acting.

There. That’s it. Does this qualify as a review? If not, here goes… Frost/Nixon. Very good. Oscar-wise, it could be a contender.

The picture above is of the cinema foyer at Santana Row. The day before seeing Frost/Nixon I had been there to see Doubt. Doubt, where Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman battle it out in a Catholic School in the Bronx in 1964. He’s a priest, likeable and compassionate. She’s a nun, severe and principled; Mamma Superior. And in the midst of this there is the only black pupil in the church school; protected by Father Flynn and, possibly, abused by him. And then the film gets complicated, but not as complicated as I think it may want to be. Doubt is everywhere and I think it is meant to spread to us. But the writer and director, John Patrick Shanley, adapting his own play, puts in enough markers to make it clear what the deal is here. It’s a slight shame.

There are similarities between Doubt and Frost/Nixon. Both films are fighting films where slip-ons clash with lace-ups;naivety with cunning; certainty with doubt; ball point pens with fountain pens. And both films have lies told for a seemingly greater good. The effect of the lie in Doubt, both to the teller and those it affects, is what makes the film worth seeing. Not the did he or didn’t he.

Blimey. Have I driven you away? If not, one spoiler coming up. An accent spoiler. I love Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He’s great in Doubt. Most of the time. But briefly, just briefly, when giving a sermon and putting on a character, he does the most awful Irish accent. I think.

p.s. Oops! Talking to my sister in the car, I commented on how awful the accent was. And then she rightly pointed out, he was a priest doing an accent, not Phillip Seymour Hoffman doing an accent. Hmmm. True. And maybe the priest is bad at accents. That’s method acting for you. Give him an Oscar.

One Response to “A man’s shoes should have laces”

  1. Sarah said

    Mens shoes should definitely have laces.

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