ELVIS & NIXON — Review by Susan Granger
Chronicling an amusing historical anecdote, Liza Johnson’s droll reminiscence shows how Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) met President Richard M. Nixon (Kevin Spacey) in the Oval Office one afternoon. In late 1970, watching the news at Graceland, Presley becomes so infuriated with the growing drug problem and moral decline in the United States that he shoots out the TV set with a .45. That’s his first reaction. Read on…
His second is to become an undercover federal agent. But – for that – he’ll need a badge from J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Narcotics. And the only way to get one is from the President of the United States.
So it falls it Presley’s long-time confidante, Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer), along with Memphis crony Sonny West (Johnny Knoxville), to deliver a rambling, hand-written letter to the White House and convince Nixon aides Egil “Bud” Krough (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters) to arrange an appointment.
Oblivious to Presley’s influence, Nixon has absolutely no interest in meeting the pop singer – until his daughter Julie begs for an autographed photo. Once the two meet, protocol is discarded as the King and POTUS chat informally – with Presley gulping the President’s Dr. Pepper and munching his M&Ms.
Michael Shannon digs beneath the ridiculous glitz and swagger to reveal Presley as seriously delusional, yet down-to-earth Southerner who firmly believes he can secretly infiltrate disruptive groups, like the Black Panthers, and bring them to justice.
In contrast, Kevin Spacey embodies hunched-over Nixon’s chronic insecurity and social ineptitude with remarkable mimicry, never succumbing to caricature.
Inventively fictionalized by screenwriters Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes, it’s astutely directed by Liza Johnson as a “Dr. Strangelove’ish” two-hander, focusing on the quirks and foibles of these two iconic figures.
FYI: the most requested photo in the National Archive is the one of Presley and Nixon shaking hands at the conclusion of their Oval Office meeting on December 21, 1970.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Elvis & Nixon” is a surreal 7, revealing a bizarre moment at the summit.