Elvis & Nixon, 2016.
Directed by Liza Johnson
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Michael Shannon, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks and Evan Peters.
A comedic what-if story spun out of a real life meeting between Elvis Presley and President Nixon in the White House in December 1970.
The King and the U.S. President have a heart-to-heart in the Oval Office before Christmas in 1970. That premise sounds extremely bizarre but sometimes reality is stranger than fiction!
Based on the real life meeting between Elvis Presley and President Nixon, the effectively titled Elvis & Nixon ponders what may have happened when the two power players exchanged words for about 40 minutes on 21 December. Although there is photographic evidence of the encounter – it is the most requested item from the National Archives – no one knows exactly what was discussed since this happened before the disgraced leader began his secret recordings. Taking inspiration from actual documents, memoirs and hearsay, director Liza Johnson and screenwriters Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes have created their own amusing version of events.
The film kicks off with Elvis very much in the white jumpsuit, Las Vegas-performing stage of his career. Sporting impressive sideburns, jewellery and sunglasses, Michael Shannon takes on the persona of the hip swivelling rock ‘n’ roller. Seemingly agitated and frustrated, Elvis suddenly hops on a plane to Los Angeles to pick up long-time friend Jerry Schilling (played by Alex Pettyfer) and convinces him to travel to the capital to arrange a tête-à-tête with Nixon.
Elvis scribbles a letter (this actually exists) in which he describes his desire to be a ‘federal agent at large’. “Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out,” he writes. “I would love to meet you.” The unusual request raises eyebrows at the White House but eventually Nixon’s right-hand men, Bud Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters), persuade the grumpy Commander-in-Chief (Kevin Spacey) of the PR benefits.
After a farcical exchange of each man’s protocols, the King and the President are finally introduced and delve into a surreal conversation covering the Vietnam War, Woodstock, the Beatles and American values.
While neither actor resembles his character – Shannon is too rugged and Spacey isn’t as gruff – the pair slowly lull you into believing their jolly role-playing game. The performances are light-hearted and endearing – helped by the period costumes – and the supporting cast follow suit.
Of course, the slight tone distracts from the fact that both Elvis and Nixon are happily chatting about their suspicions of ‘the other’, i.e. dislike of the hippie movement, protest groups and four famous lads from Liverpool. Elvis harps on about wanting to “restore some respect for the flag which was being lost.” At the age of 35, the King had become firmly ‘establishment’, a surprising twist of fate for a person who was previously criticised for being a symbol of youthful rebellion.
Elvis & Nixon is an entirely pleasant 86 minutes in the cinema – entertaining, humorous and well-made, albeit somewhat forgettable. Also it’s further proof that a female director can harness the energy of two top male thespians portraying macho men.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★