In December of 1970, Elvis Presley showed up unannounced at the front gates of the White House to request a personal meeting with President Nixon. The story of Presley’s fascination with the FBI and his insistence on being given an honorary special agent badge so he could go undercover to help America has always fascinated me. Who hasn’t looked at that famous photo of Nixon and Elvis shaking hands and wondered what the heck went on in the Oval Office that day? This movie tells the (imagined) story of the what, why and how of that now legendary meeting.
Fans of Elvis will especially get a kick out of this movie. I’ve visited Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee several times over the years and I remember one of the main exhibits that housed Elvis’ many official law enforcement badges from police departments across the country. The badges filled an entire wall. If you have a basic background knowledge of Elvis and his many quirks, you’ll find an enhanced richness to the story. It helps if you know a bit about Nixon too, so read up a bit on your history before going to see it. Even if you aren’t very familiar with either man’s backstory, there’s still plenty to enjoy.
“Elvis & Nixon” is charming, witty and quite funny. Michael Shannon abandons his signature over-the-top acting style and dials it down a bit to play Elvis. His subdued approach fits the role well, allowing him to capture the legend through his well-mimicked speech patterns all the way down to his swagger. Kevin Spacey is lively as Nixon, obviously having a ball chewing on his role. (I’m glad my fear that he’d be channeling too much Frank Underwood was completely unfounded). Colin Hanks (Egil “Bud” Krogh) and Johnny Knoxville (Sonny) turn in two very affable and amusing supporting performances too, and Alex Pettyfer is likeable as Elvis’ right hand man, Jerry Schilling. It is obvious everyone involved in this film had a ton of fun making it, and their real-life bromances leap off the screen.
The period set pieces are fun and the soundtrack is great (no Elvis songs, though). The pacing is just right and for once, here’s a film with a reasonable 86 minute run time (it left me wanting more). This film is not something that’s going to change the face of cinema, but it’s a lively little gem of an indie movie.
Side note for parents: this film is unfortunately rated R solely because some characters utter the “f word” several times, but there’s nothing else objectionable about the content. It’s completely appropriate for mature pre-teens who are interested in history (or Elvis).
Overall I was pleasantly surprised. This is a very fun movie and is a must-see for history lovers and fans of the King.
“Elvis & Nixon” is a good bit of goofy fun.
Inspired by the meeting in 1970 between The King and the leader of the free world, “Elvis & Nixon” is about the collision of two larger-than-life self-made men that seemingly connected with one another over a shared set of values. This legendary meeting preceded Nixon’s wiring up the Oval Office and as a result, we don’t know exactly what happened or what was said when Elvis met the President. These gaps in the historical record leaves the screenwriters with plenty of room to use their imagination — and they do a great job of it.
Instead of tired mimicry, Michael Shannon (as Elvis) and Kevin Spacey (as Nixon) breathe new life into these legendary characters by allowing us a peek into their private lives. Going into the film, I confess I was sort of hoping that Shannon would go over the top a la “Take Shelter” or “Man of Steel“, but he didn’t. Surprisingly, his version of Elvis was much more nuanced than most and captured Elvis’s essential humanity. But at the same time, both Shannon are Spacey are clearly having fun with these roles. Neither actor takes their part — or himself — too seriously.
“Elvis & Nixon” takes some time to build its momentum. While it doesn’t necessarily drag, everything that precedes the encounter between the two pales in comparison to the actual White House visit. The movie really comes into its own during that meeting, and it’s there that the screenwriters have the most fun. Their imagining of what happened that day is both credibly incredible and wildly hilarious, and the two lead actors attack those scenes with great zeal.
Rarely do you see a film like this one where you get the sense that everyone who made it was enjoying themselves. The movie pulses with this exuberant energy, and it’s infectious. The cast and crew clearly had a good time making it, and I had a good time watching it.