Elvis & Nixon

Studio: Amazon Studios
Directed by Liza Johnson

Apr 22, 2016 Web Exclusive
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Early one morning in December 1970, Elvis Presley stepped out of a limo at the northwest gate of the White House with a personal letter for Richard Nixon. Later that afternoon, the President and the King met in the Oval Office. For a chief executive famous for taping his meetings and phone calls, no records exist of their meeting save for one famous photograph of the two shaking hands. What was the nature of their meeting? What did they discuss? No one knows for sure, but that’s what Elvis & Nixon tries to envision.

Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey deserve a lot of credit here. There’s a special challenge in portraying not only two of the most well-known figures of the 20th century, but two of the most frequently-impersonated. They’re able to inhabit the roles in a way that isn’t distracting; Shannon, especially, humanizes Presley and elevates his performance well beyond the sort of guys you’d commonly find playing the same role along the Vegas strip. It helps that they’re two theater actors, as well, as the crux (and high point) of the film is their brief, private interaction inside the walls of the Oval Office.

For what it is—an imagined version of history that colors in unrecorded details—Elvis & Nixon is a fun, light excursion. Its main problem, though, is that the premise—a ten-minute meeting behind closed doors—can’t be stretched to accommodate a full-length movie. They try to remedy this, and we’re saddled with a b-plot about Elvis’ buddy, Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer), trying to get out from under Elvis’ cape and establish a life of his own. When you have a movie about two fascinating historical figures, it’s hard to get invested in the significant run time devoted to a guy that many viewers will have never heard of. 


Author rating: 6/10

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