R | 1h 26min | Comedy, History
Review - Matt Mungle
*In select theaters April 22*
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.
Review: If liberties were taken in retelling the story of the ELVIS & NIXON meeting of December 21st, 1970 that is fine. The end result is a humorous and often endearing film that showcases two power house actors. The nostalgia of the era plus the persona of these individuals only increase the watch factor. Not a perfect film but that's alright, mama.
No two characters in history have been as mimicked and impersonated as Elvis and Nixon. Both have such signature traits that you think it would be easy to portray them effectively; as long as the main elements are there. Performance grade aside, having recognizable actors playing highly recognizable characters tended to be more of a detriment than a benefit when it came to these roles.
Even in his older years Elvis (Michael Shannon) had this pretty face and school boy smile that made women melt. He had a soft and gentle nature to him that won over an entire population. Shannon has none of that. He is more on the rugged end of the handsome scale and has a tendency to be far more intimidating than charming. He is arguably one of the best dramatic actors on the planet but most women aren't swooning over him. So getting past those issues takes a while in this film. In fact you never truly feel like you are seeing Elvis but instead are watching someone pretend to talk and walk like the king. That is a hard disconnect to get past.
Nixon (Kevin Spacey) on the other hand is more about posture and voice. Spacey is able to transform easily enough and warming to him takes less time. Unless of course you are a fan of the Netflix Series House of Cards which creates an altogether different issue. Spacey plays president Frank Underwood on that show and seeing him as another White House leader is just odd. It may sound trivial but Spacey has made Underwood such an imposing character that it is hard to separate. Again it doesn't take as long to get past it but it never truly goes away.
The supporting cast superbly aide Shannon and Spacey in this one. On the White House side you have Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters) trying to convince a reluctant and belligerent Nixon that this meeting would be a boost for public relations. At the same time Elvis' best friend and colleague Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) is trying to once again keep Presley grounded in reality. Elvis is on a mission to become an undercover drug agent and wants Nixon to give him a special badge. It was an obsession of his in the 70's as documented in many family memoirs. The film is more than anything his pursuit to obtain it.
Director Liza Johnson does a solid job of keeping the story moving and the characters engaging. The 70's in some ways were not that long ago but in others as far removed as the stone age. The lack of technology allowed for a more organic way of interaction with people and celebrities that is beautiful to watch. It is gratifying to watch people enjoy a moment for what it is and not through the lens of a mobile device. We often forget how the public idolized Elvis. Here we get a glimpse of how huge he was.
Of course the bread and butter of the flick is the actual meeting between the two men. If that doesn't work on screen then what is the point? It is that moment that all others have been leading up to. And it doesn't disappoint. That is the film's main event and when we truly get to see these strong performers perform together flawlessly.
ELVIS & NIXON is rated R for some language. Other than a few well placed expletives there is nothing even close to objectionable in this film. The story and themes are adult centered as they should be. I give it 3.75 out of 5 registered firearms. It is certainly a lot of fun to watch and a lighthearted, nostalgic look at a historical moment.