Tuesday, April 19, 2016

“Elvis & Nixon”– Movie Review


This week, I attended The Centerpiece screening at The Tribeca Film Festival:  the World Premiere of the new comedy, “Elvis & Nixon”, starring Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon.


When rock star Elvis Presley decides to become a federal narcotics agent, he requests a meeting with President Richard Nixon – but if Nixon consents to the meeting, will he also agree to making him an agent?


In 1970, rock and roll legend Elvis Presley (Shannon) was discouraged by the current events of the day:  American youth protested against the Vietnam war, pervasive lax morality and most importantly, rampant drug usage.  Having enjoyed immense success for many years, Elvis felt a sense of duty; he decided he needed to lobby then-United States President Richard Nixon (Spacey) to make him an undercover drug enforcement agent.  Elvis called upon his good friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) to accompany him on a trip to Washington, D.C. where he would deliver a handwritten letter to Nixon requesting a meeting.  

Things, however, do not go as planned.  Although the letter eventually makes its way to Administration official Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) and is granted permission to pitch it to The President, Nixon flatly rejects the idea.  When Elvis gets the news, he’s crestfallen and decides to return to his Graceland mansion in Tennessee until Jerry convinces Krogh to appeal to Nixon’s daughters.  Once they learn their father has a chance to meet The King Of Rock And Roll, they beg him for autographs and photos.  Learning this, Nixon reconsiders his original position and grants Elvis a brief meeting.

With preparations for the meeting underway, it becomes clear this is turning into a power struggle between these two different men.  Initially planning to keep the meeting to five minutes, Nixon is cajoled by Elvis, allowing him to extend his stay.  Eventually, however, Elvis hits Nixon with The Big Ask:  an official badge from the Bureau Of Narcotics And Dangerous Drugs making him an undercover agent.  Seeing Elvis is delusional, Nixon tries to dissuade him – but can Elvis talk The President into awarding him a badge?


“Elvis And Nixon” is hardly a movie anyone needs to see immediately – if ever. For all of its oddities, however, the film’s daffiness and congeniality renders it as an occasionally entertaining experience in its own cumbersome way, sometimes overcoming a cumbersome script with performances that are really out there.  Why such gifted actors as Spacey and Shannon consented to it may forever remain a mystery.  Spacey refuses to act behind make-up – he only remotely resembles Nixon and his imitation of the disgraced President is adequate (those who’ve seen his impressions of Al Pacino or Johnny Carson know just how good a mimic he can be).  

Shannon, perhaps to his credit, resists the temptation to go Full Metal Elvis; his only resemblance to Elvis is in his unorthodox dress and hairstyle and he does not appear to even attempt some semblance of an impersonation.  Instead, he seems to be making a considerably more nuanced acting choice by presenting Elvis as almost likeable despite The King’s gullible nature (or naiveté).  By contrast, Spacey seems to have chosen to make a mockery of Nixon; he is intentionally playing the President for laughs whereas Shannon’s Elvis is completely unaware of how ridiculous he truly was.  

Together, the two make for some amusing moments during the actual meeting, although you may feel ashamed of yourself for laughing; these two egomaniacs are so impressed with their own sense of self-importance they just can’t seem to get over themselves –which is part of what makes their pairing so curious.  Clearly, “Elvis And Nixon” is merely an imagining of what happened not only during the meeting, but in the events leading up to it as well; much of what is here is taken from Elvis’ long-time friend Jerry Schilling, who wrote a book about his relationship with The King Of Rock And Roll.    

Elvis & Nixon (2016) on IMDb

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