Release: 31st October 2016
Format: DVD / DGTL
The untold true story behind the meeting between Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, and President Richard Nixon, resulting in this revealing, yet humorous moment immortalized in the most requested photograph in the National Archives.
As you might imagine Elvis & Nixon isn’t the first time the fabled meeting of these two seemingly polar opposite icons of American history has hit the screen. One can only imagine how awful 1997’s Elvis Meets Nixon was, because clearly no one watched it. Thankfully we now have Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey taking on these eccentric personalities, in a more promising endeavor. And although the end result is way too constrained and condensed for its own good, one feels drawn to this tiny little film for its efforts.
The first thing to note about Liza Johnson’s frothy nostalgia trip is that it is filled with stock footage, nods at history and subtle hints at a bygone era. But as with Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, it treats the period setting as par for the course and not central to the plot. There is a charm in that the filmmaker doesn’t over complicate or wax lyrical about the era, giving us just a flavour; and this filters through into the central performances. Spacey’s Nixon is a removal from the jowl wobbling bloodhound we all know, while Shannon’s Elvis is extremely light on the “Thank you very much!” Memphis drawl (a moment smartly lampooned in a cute exchange at LAX). Instead Spacey and Shannon offer gentle interpretations that seem to encapsulate the ‘essence’ of their characters (much as Fassbender did in Steve Jobs) rather than outright impersonations. It suits the material well and even serves to make for a more melancholic Presley, defining a man in decline who seems to become ever increasingly aware than Elvis the man and Elvis the celebrity are very different entities indeed.
One of the major frustrations to arise from an otherwise harmless and sweet little movie is that the title characters meet only in the 3rd act. Like some form of political police procedural, Elvis & Nixon is more about the efforts taken to get frumpy old Nixon deigning to the meet, rather than the real meat and gravy; the ludicrous pairing in the meeting itself. Nonetheless, the goods are delivered as both Spacey and Shannon bask in the glory that said forum offers. There is a great gag involving M&Ms and an ever revolving reference to Presley’s obsession with firearms, which play well with Spacey in the room, while Alex Pettyfer seems unduly to be given more than his fair share of limelight as straight man Jerry. For a film that markets itself around two men, Nixon is a secondary player in a story which ultimately swings from Presley’s lonely cut figure to the grassroots friendship between “The King” and childhood pal, Jerry. There is a lack of focus here, and ultimately each plot strand finds itself stranded in favour of another at any given time.
During the opening scene, shortly before blowing a hole in his wall of TVs, Elvis finds himself chuckling away at Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. It is right here that Johnson could have found a neat parallel with which to tell her story, as although the discussion had between Elvis and Nixon in the Oval Office were (ironically) unrecorded – (Watergate joke for you there folks) – the film would have seen tremendous benefit from hunkering down at that key room in the White House and keeping action there from act two onward. Instead, Johnson makes the likes of Ocean’s Eleven her creation’s spirit cousin and a perfect opportunity is wasted in favour of vim to match Presley’s famed vigour. Like the man her film depicts, given the choice between the man and the legend, Johnson has fallen in favour of the latter, when in all truth both are equally just an enigmatic.
Film Grade: C+
Check-in to Heartbreak Hotel, because those crooks at EOne have given Elvis & Nixon a big fat zero.
Special Features Grade: F
Decent film, sub-par treatment for the home market.