Elvis & Nixon review
When I was in High School, I recall skimming through the Government & Politics textbook where I saw the iconic picture of musical icon Elvis Presley and U.S. president Richard Nixon. It was a part of a section that had to do with how different generations viewed their president. It said something about how this simple image was an attempt to show that Nixon was "hip and with it". At the time, the picture had little interest in me except that these two very different people were together for a handshake. Now I think how oddly enough, both men had a lot in common.
Both grew up in poor families. Both had served in the military. Both were conservative. But most importantly, both were well known, but for different reasons. Nixon was the leader of the free world and was in total control, but managed to keep his family life secret. Elvis was so famous that his image was practically the only thing people thought about without knowing the real guy. They see Elvis and think about their first concert or song. What was said during that infamous meting remains a mystery, but Elvis & Nixon tries to put a more humorous spin in what transpired.
An aging Elvis Presley (played by Michael Shannon) sees nothing but youth protesting on television and this he feels needs to be changed. He flies to Los Angeles to meet up with his longtime friend Jerry Schilling (played by Alex Pettyfer) and reveals that he wants to be made an "undercover agent at large" to infiltrate concerts, hippie communes, and more to catch drug dealers. Despite such a ridiculous request, the two catch another plane to Washington D.C. and literally drive up to the White House gate asking to meet with the president.
This sudden arrival from the King puts the entire White House staff, including the secret service in surprise. With only a letter explaining what he wants, a top official Egil Krogh (played by Colin Hanks) brings it up with President Richard Nixon (played by Kevin Spacy). Nixon immediately says no, despite being informed that a short meeting could do well with getting the youth vote. Through means that I won't spoil, Elvis gets his appointment and the two chat about a variety of things; the youth, the responsibilities of both, and for Elvis, his desired undercover badge.
Part of me thinks that if Elvis & Nixon was in the hands of someone like the Coen Brothers or Scorsese, this might have been a hard drama with an in depth study on the two. This however is nothing like that.
In fact, Elvis & Nixon is closer to a comedy. And I laughed! I was surprised by how much I chuckled at the various ramblings of Elvis and the simply absurdity of his request to the president. I think most viewers will catch right away that this is meant to be a comedy (I didn't even mention that Johnny Knoxville is also in the story as a member of the Memphis Mafia).
Much of the pressure is on Michael Shannon to play Elvis, who really hits a home run here. He looks, sounds, and even made me forget that there was an actor under the Elvis hear and sunglasses. My bigger concern was on Kevin Spacy who thankfully makes for an adequate Nixon (though I prefer Frank Langella's version from Frost/Nixon).
The meeting depicted doesn't have a lot to say about the time period and the troubles the current generation us under, but the writing makes up for it by simply letting their personalities take over and to simply let them be who they are. I was surprised by how much I liked this.
I'll give this eight famous pictures of Elvis and Nixon out of ten. This is a rare historical movie that really isn't trying to be a griping story, but rather an entertaining comedy. I'm glad a saw this. Take a further glance into that photograph and consider going deeper with Elvis & Nixon.