Synopsis: The untold true story behind the meeting between the King of Rock ‘n Roll and President Nixon, resulting in this revealing, yet humorous moment immortalized in the most requested photograph in the National Archives.
Release Date: April 22, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Comedy, History
Everyone has seen the picture, the one with a fake-smiling Richard Nixon giving a half-hearted handshake to an Elvis Presley who looks like he’d rather be anywhere but there. That picture was taken in 1970 inside the Oval Office, and it’s reportedly one of the most requested photographs in the National Archives. The meeting of the minds that is depicted in that photograph is the impetus behind Elvis & Nixon.
Elvis & Nixon sees Elvis (Take Shelter‘s Michael Shannon) deciding that he wants a federal badge to add to his collection of honorary local law enforcement credentials that have been gifted to him throughout the years. He writes a handwritten letter to President Nixon (Kevin Spacey from “House of Cards”) explaining how he would be a good “Federal Agent at Large” and, with the help of his lifelong friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer from Endless Love) and his bodyguard Sonny (Johnny Knoxville from “Jackass”), delivers it in person to the White House security gates. At first, Nixon aides Egil “Bud” Krogh (Colin Hanks from “Fargo”) and Dwight Chapin (The Lazarus Effect‘s Evan Peters) think it’s a joke, but after a little thought, they realize that meeting the King of Rock & Rock might boost Nixon’s public image, so they agree to set up a meeting for Elvis to plead his case with the President.if the President will see him.
Directed by Liza Johnson (Return), Elvis & Nixon was written by a trio of actors – Joey Sagal, his ex-wife Hanala Sagal, and Cary Elwes (yes, that Cary Elwes) – using two books as guides: Jerry Schilling’s Me and a Guy Name Elvis: My Lifelong Friendship With Elvis Presley and Egil “Bud” Krogh’s The Day Elvis Met Nixon. So, working from blueprints that tell both sides of the story, there is some historical accuracy to the movie, but thankfully, not enough to keep it from being wildly entertaining. The blanks that are filled in by the screenwriters are what transform Elvis & Nixon from a historical drama to a hysterical farce.
The actual meeting itself is a bit of a red herring in Elvis & Nixon. Everyone knows that the meeting took place, so the movie’s focus is really the events leading up to the meeting and what happens once the meeting is underway. Truth be told, there are plenty of extraneous scenes in the film that are essentially there to just pad the running time, but it’s forgivable since the entire movie clocks in at a brisk 86 minutes. Even with the fluff, Elvis & Nixon never gets tired or tedious, and it’s seemingly over just as soon as it gets rolling.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a point to Elvis & Nixon, but it sure as hell is entertaining. So, if the movie’s purpose is to amuse its audience (and isn’t that the purpose of any movie?), then Elvis & Nixon accomplishes its mission.
The two lead performances in Elvis & Nixon are what really sell the film. From the very first scene in the movie, one in which Kevin Spacey is introduced as Richard Nixon, the audience knows that it’s in for a good time. Nixon is a highly imitable character, and Spacey nails every little nuance and expression. Michael Shannon is equally impressive as the also-imitable Elvis Presley; even though the actor bears little facial resemblance to Presley, his face is basically hidden by mutton chop sideburns and dangling hair bangs, and he still pulls off the trademark grunt-and-growl style of talking. Shannon and Spacey both commit fully to their roles, and both seem to be enjoying themselves without totally making fun of their characters, and that makes the movie more enjoyable for the audience. You can’t have a movie called Elvis & Nixon without a good Elvis and a good Nixon, so luckily, both roles are in the right hands.
There’s one interesting fact about the music in Elvis & Nixon. Basically, it’s that the movie doesn’t include any Elvis Presley songs. There are a handful of familiar songs by other artists of the period – “Susie Q” from Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Hold On I’m Coming” by Sam & Dave, and Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” are all there – but no songs from the King himself. The score, composed by Ed Shearmur (Before I Go to Sleep, She’s Funny That Way), is a typically brilliant faux-spy type of a soundtrack that mocks the special agent and secret service aspects of the movie, an attitude that goes hand-in-hand with the campy vibe of the film. But, there is a distinct lack of Elvis tunes in Elvis & Nixon, making the movie more about the man and the meeting than his music.
While Elvis & Nixon isn’t rolling-on-the-floor funny, it is hilarious in its own way. The humor in the film is subliminal and dry instead of obvious and dirty, and it’s much better that way – it makes the movie seem smarter, even when it’s kind of dumb. For example, at one point while Elvis is in an airport, an Elvis impersonator (played by screenwriter Joey Sagal) approaches him and criticizes his outfit, saying The King would never wear clothes like that, while Elvis and Jerry just exchange knowing glances with each other. In another scene, Nixon’s aides brief Elvis on a list of protocols that must be followed in order for the meeting to take place, things like “don’t drink the President’s Dr. Pepper” and “don’t eat the M&Ms out of the candy bowl,” and of course, Elvis breaks every rule once he gets into the room with Nixon. Elvis & Nixon is full of that silly type of comedy, brainless, but not lowbrow. Whatever you want to call it, it’s pretty funny.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Liz Johnson
- Producer(s): Cassian ElwesHolly Wiersma
- Screenwriter(s): Joey SagalHanala SagalCary Elwes
- Cast: Michael Shannon (Elvis Presley)Kevin Spacey (Richard Nixon)Alex Pettyfer (Jerry Schilling) Johnny Knoxville (Sonny)Colin Hanks (Egil “Bud” Krogh)Evan Peters (Dwight Chapin)
- Editor(s): Sabine Hoffman
- Cinematographer: Terry Stacey
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s): Kerry BardenPaul Schnee
- Music Score: Ed Shearmur
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA