The AP’s Christy Lemire gave the film four stars, and singles out Langella:
Frank Langella is positively formidable as the former president, a skilled manipulator under optimal circumstances whose desperate desire for rehabilitation makes him extra dangerous.
Langella isn’t doing a dead-on impression, which is preferable; Nixon’s quirks have been imitated so frequently and poorly, such an approach risks lapsing into caricature. Rather, he has internalized a volatile combination of inferiority, awkwardness, quick wit and a hunger for power. He loses himself in the role with rumbles and growls, with a hunched carriage and the slightest lift of the eyebrows.
More after the cut.
TIME Mag’s capsule:
The Ron Howard movie of Peter Morgan’s docuplay keeps the play’s stars ‚Äî Frank Langella as Nixon, Michael Sheen as Frost ‚Äî and buttresses the confrontation with news clips from the Watergate years. What was a pageant on the stage becomes an intimate, magnified TV show, the closeup camera alert to every nuance of Frost’s insecurity rising to bravado and Nixon’s pugnacity gradually sagging into defeat. This very fine movie doesn’t make history, but it captures history as few others have.
Langella and Sheen originated these roles on stage, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing them. Sheen, who was Tony Blair in Morgan’s “The Queen,” dazzles as the debonair media high-wire artist holding on for dear life when the slippery Nixon ducks all his early-round punches. More presidential than the real president, Langella gives Nixon a stature and poignancy that the man himself rarely displayed: it’s a towering, witty performance that reaches its peak in the drunken late-night phone call he makes to Frost, sizing him up as a man, like himself, with a fiercely competitive chip on his shoulder. The scene is Morgan’s invention, but it’s an illuminating, inspired fiction. Not everything in “Frost/Nixon” happened in real life, but both sides would probably agree it should have.
And the New Yorker’s David Denby, slightly mixed but positive:
‚ÄúFrost/Nixon‚Äù offers considerable insight into the Nixon mystery, without solving it; the movie is fully absorbing and even, when Nixon falls into a drunken, resentful rage, exciting, but I can‚Äôt escape the feeling that it carries about it an aura of momentousness that isn‚Äôt warranted by the events. Why is it meant to be so important to us whether David Frost revives his career? Frost and Reston did finally goad Nixon into saying that he let the American people down, and that he believed that ‚Äúwhen the President does it, that means it‚Äôs not illegal,‚Äù and they have extracted a considerable amount of copy out of the broadcasts (including two books). But it‚Äôs possible that both journalists and playwright have confused a media coup (and a less important one than that of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein) with a cleansing act that forever chastened the Presidency. It was anything but that: after all, twenty-four years later, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney entered the White House.