ELVIS & NIXON
Director: Liza Johnson
Starring: Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters
If you’ve ever watched House of Cards, you have seen Kevin Spacey take control of the Oval Office. He’s back in familiar territory, but this time playing a very different president. In Elvis & Nixon, he’s playing Richard Nixon before the Watergate scandal broke loose. It’s December 1970, and he hasn’t started recording all of the conversations happening in the White House. If he had, we would actually know what was said between him and the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley (Shannon). Presley was very distraught over the state of the country and feels the need to help out. He believes Woodstock, marijuana, and other violent protest groups are causing the country’s downfall. He has written a letter to President Nixon and personally wants to deliver it. He is fully determined to have a full sit down meeting in hopes of being granted the position of federal agent at large. The arrival of Presley’s letter is believed to be a joke, even President Nixon thinks it’s hogwash to bring a rock and roll entertainer into the White House. Presley won’t take no for an answer, and Nixon finally relents leading to a humorous and lively discussion between two iconic figures.
I am by no means an Elvis Presley expert, so the whole idea behind the film presented a new side of him, as I primarily know him for some of his music and film roles. There is a real tragic side to the Elvis we see in this story. He seems rundown, lost, and desperate to show off his ideals and morals to distance himself from the image the country has of him. As Elvis, Michael Shannon (Midnight Special) gives him a soft and fragile voice, which is vastly different than the low and hunky drawl we associate with him. He really shows off the character as Elvis the Person versus playing him as Elvis the Entertainer. There’s a funny moment that plays this up when two Elvis impersonators approach Elvis in the airport not realizing that he’s actually the real Elvis. They berate him for wearing the wrong clothes and claim “Elvis would never where that.”
Despite the equal billing in the title, this film is more about The King than it is about the crooked president. Spacey gives a darn good performance as Nixon with his receding hairline wig, slouched shoulders, and gut. I did feel like I saw some of his House of Cards president, Frank Underwood, in there which was either accidental or a slight insight to whom Spacey modeled Underwood on. We’ve seen countless portrayals of Nixon from Anthony Hopkins, Frank Langella, and Dan Hedaya to name a few. Neither Michael Shannon nor Kevin Spacey look like their characters, but they do a decent job of getting their mannerisms and physicality without falling into caricature/impersonation type performances.
The actual meeting of the two only happens in the final twenty minutes of the movie as the rest of the film is the lead-up and negotiations that have to happen to make it work. Alex Pettyfer (Magic Mike) plays Elvis’ main associate Jerry Schilling and Johnny Knoxville (Jackass) plays another confidant working with them. We find Colin Hanks (Fargo) and Evan Peters (American Horror Story) working in the White House as two of Nixon’s closest aides. Nixon was the only holdout on making this meeting happen, which left everyone else scrambling to turn him around. I can’t quite determine which is stranger. Is it the fact that Nixon didn’t want an entertainer in the White House or that Presley wanted to be a DEA agent? It seems to be a vastly different era than it is today when presidents are often seen making friends with people in the entertainment industry. How many times do we hear President Obama’s name in the same sentence with Beyoncé and Jay-Z?
Despite the sadder tones to it, director Liza Johnson plays up the humor behind it all as the script by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal, and Cary Elwes showcases the absurdity and unbelievable idea behind Elvis wanting to be a government agent. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s the same Cary Elwes who once wooed Princess Buttercup in The Princess Bride. His brother, Cassian Elwes, is one of the film’s producers. We’ll never know what exactly was said between Nixon and Presley on that day, but you’d have to think it was a crazy conversation. I don’t think the film sets out to be a dissecting probe at these two figures, but it certainly does provide one entertaining look at a side of Elvis that may be unknown to others. It also continues to prove the strength and deep complexity behind a Michael Shannon performance.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Elvis fans and history buffs will get a kick out of this bizarre true story that led to one of the most requested photos in the government’s archive.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS