What It’s About
The story behind that immortal image — the most requested item at the National Archives — has been pieced together through memos, letters and personal accounts, but the film “Elvis and Nixon” turns what transpired into a well-done satirical comedy.
Screenwriters Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes (yes, the actor in “The Princess Bride”) focus on the personalities while framing the historical context.
Elvis was upset over the way he thought the country was headed as protests over the Vietnam War escalated and rebelliousness grew. He decided to offer his services to the government, and wanted to be a federal agent at large, going under cover to catch traitors and other illegal activity.
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The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll wrote Nixon a six-page letter and showed up at the White House gates to deliver it.
What unfolds with all the president’s men and Elvis’ Memphis Mafia behind the scenes is a fascinating moment of time, especially with the pedigree of the actors involved.
Nixon was pushed into it because he badly needed good press.
Two of our best actors perfectly embody these iconic historical figures, not merely mimicking the rock superstar and the president.
Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey (“House of Cards”), whose gift for impersonation has been revealed in talk show appearances and as an SNL host, goes beyond the cartoon as Nixon. He captures the personality traits well.
Michael Shannon (“Midnight Special”), Oscar nominee and acclaimed stage actor, is a revelation as Elvis in his prime. He confidently assumed the superstar swagger and the private persona in a believable way, showing us another side of his range.
Sturdy support is handled by Alex Pettyfer (“Magic Mike”) as Elvis confidante Jerry Schilling, with Colin Hanks (“Life in Pieces”) and St. Louis-born Evan Peters (“The X-Men: Days of Future Past”) as White House staffers. Johnny Knoxville (“Jackass”) plays TCB pal Sonny West and Tate Donovan is Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman.
Much has been written about the men since the 1970s, so for Shannon and Spacey to pull off such authentic performances is remarkable.
Director Liza Johnson concentrates on this bizarre close encounter, and maintains a light touch. Good humor abounds.
What Doesn’t Work
No matter how entertaining, the premise and the effort is rather slight.
But it’s well worth seeing for the immersive work of Shannon and Spacey. And it’s over far too quickly.
Note: The movie is produced by Amazon, and therefore will be available for streaming after the initial theatrical release.
“Elvis and Nixon”
- Director: Liza Johnson
- Cast: Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Tate Donovan, Tracy Letts
- Rated R (for some language)
- 88 minutes