Welcome to the Great Debate, a feature that asks you to argue for or against one of two opposing film-related elements. You will make your case for why you think one element is better than the other. Let the debate begin!
Frank Langella was completely lost inside the character of the disgraced former President during a 30-minute interview with British personality David Frost three years after he left office. Frank Langella delivers a scene-stealing performance. The film’s make-up artist deserves credit for transforming Langella uncannily into Nixon, but it’s Langella’s assumption of Nixon’s trembling, bunched face, intonation, heady stare and sly smile that is the real feat. Langella doesn’t just mimic Nixon; he embodies him.
Anthony Hopkins – Nixon
Richard Nixon is played by another Hollywood heavyweight in Nixon. Like Frank Langella, Anthony Hopkins doesn’t just impersonate Nixon; he delivers a deep and believable performance. Unlike Langella, though, he only looks and sounds generally like Nixon. Still, Hopkins is no less than impressive in his depiction of Nixon’s unhappy and awkward early years to his bitter, conspiratorial and evasive years before and during his presidency.
My argument is for Frank Langella. With two formidable actors playing the title role, it was very hard to give one an edge over the other. For me, what tipped the scales in Langella’s favour was the range of emotions he depicted under one circumstance during a single event: the interview. Langella goes from calm, to enraged, to evasive. He digresses, attempts to distract with anecdotes, and at times turns the interview around to Frost. Eventually, cornered by Frost, Nixon admits his involvement in Watergate, a futile admission because everybody already knew about what he had so vehemently denied. Langella (as Nixon) is fantastic as Nixon the character’s final catharsis at the interview’s end is the conclusion to a wonderful, powerful and memorable performance.