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Review - Elvis and Nixon

By midlandsmovies, Aug 5 2016 11:50AM

Elvis & Nixon (2016) Dir. Liza Johnson

This film from director Liza Johnson (Return and Hateship, Loveship) is based upon the infamous Elvis and Nixon photo from 1970 (click here) which showed the notorious US President at the time shaking hands with the equally well known music legend in the Oval Office.

The movie states at the beginning that no recording was made of the meeting between two of the most famous people on the planet in the White House so combines fact with a splash of fiction. What is known is the surroundings before and after as Elvis heads from Graceland to L.A. then back to Washington DC in his attempts to become an undercover FBI agent. And yes, there’s plenty of real evidence to support this did indeed actually happen.

What is speculated is presented as a ‘what-if’ scenario based upon the infamous meeting where Tricky Dicky and The King chat back and forth about their respective requirements. The film suggests Nixon wanted to win over the public by associating himself with a popular celebrity whilst Presley has a goal to get an actual Governmental badge to pursue his plans of being a spy.

Strangely, in a week where I’ve re-watched Frost/Nixon, X-Men: DOFP & Watchmen (all who have their own takes on the fallen President), this film contains a stunning impersonation delivered by Kevin Spacey who plays the slimy and sleazy Nixon with panache. And thankfully, my initial reservations about Michael Shannon as Elvis wore off as he becomes more believable as the film goes along, playing him with a kind of arrogant innocence.

Nixon’s skulduggery plays on Elvis’ naivety (and increasing eccentricity) as the singer aspires to become a federal agent and the film gives a solid if underwritten role to Alex Pettyfer as Elvis’ aide, Jerry Schilling.

Pettyfer is part of a small sub-plot about Elvis’ inner circle of “friends” and the cast is rounded out by Johnny Knoxville as another part of the “Memphis Mafia” and Colin Hanks and Evan Peters (Quicksilver in X-Men) who play two of Nixon’s White House lackeys.

The film heightens reality as government security (as well as the general public) are shown to be in awe at Elvis’ presence before being quickly replaced with an inability to comprehend his requests to meet the President and J Edgar Hoover.

The soundtrack is a cool mix of bluesy rock from the period – wisely it avoids any inclusion of Elvis songs – and the quick editing ensures a fast pace as we whip back and forth across the US before slowing down for their private chat at the film’s conclusion.

Both performances are spot-on and I enjoyed the tone of the film as it focused on a very strange engagement from the past. Paranoid Presley is presented as an outlandish loner detached from reality, with Spacey’s Nixon is a parallel characterisation with a huge sense of self-importance. It is their interaction which is the crux of the film and although it takes a little while to get there, it is well worth sticking with given the fantastic efforts by two superb and engaging actors.


Midlands Movies Mike

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