On December 21st in 1970, Elvis Presley requested a meeting with then President Richard Nixon. Worried about the drug problems and social issues sweeping America, Presley wanted to offer his assistance and in return become an undercover “Federal Agent at Large”, and receive a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. During the meeting a picture was taken of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon side by side, shaking hands. This film is about that meeting, and the most requested picture from the National Archives.
Directed by Liza Johnson (Hateship Loveship), the film based on this unlikely meeting stars Michael Shannon as the King, and Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon, and the film is just as unusual as it sounds. The film begins with a lonely Elvis, growing frustrated with the disturbing images he watches on TV from his Graceland home, and rather than sit idly by he wishes to do something about. The King reaches out to former entourage member Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer), asking to help him acquire a badge from the BNDD and meet with Richard Nixon. Jerry reluctantly agrees, breaking away from his job working in editing to help out his old friend. On the other side, two of Nixon’s staff Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapain (Evan Peters), find out about Elvis Presley’s request to meet with the President and look to set up a meeting in the hopes it’ll boost his popularity with younger voters. Nixon however is bullish, and despite initially refusing the meeting, accepts on the condition it remain short. What follows is a peculiar meeting of opposite personalities that both bemuses and entertains.
Really Elvis & Nixon is a film that doesn’t have much substance to it, it’s like a sketch from a comedy show blown up to a feature length film, yet still retains an undeniable sense of captivation thanks primarily to two supreme actors playing such gigantic personalities. Michael Shannon may not seem like the perfect person to play Elvis on paper, but he is damn fine at it and Kevin Spacey is just wonderful as the strong minded Richard Nixon. The highlights of course occur in the last segment of the film as the pair lead up to meeting one another, and then the meeting itself.
Before this bizarre encounter, we spend the majority of the time with Elvis, Jerry, and Sonny West (Johnny Knoxville) as they try their best to get a meeting with the President. During this time we see glimpses of an Elvis worn out from keeping up the grand personality the world knows him as, lonely and isolated in Graceland with nobody to call a friend, and seemingly on the edge of a loosing it. It’s interesting stuff to see, unfortunately it’s only touched upon instead of fully realised, most likely because history has since taught us that Elvis may not have been always the most sympathetic of figures. That being said, Liza Johnson does a great job of straddling the line between portraying Elvis in one type of light, allowing his eccentric actions to speak for him, as well as his little heart to hearts with Jerry. These moments also prevent Elvis & Nixon from becoming a hollow 86 minutes, waiting for the grand finale.
The meeting itself though not as crazy as some might expect, demonstrates plenty of quirks from both the King and the President. It is easily the most engrossing part of the film as both Shannon and Spacey demonstrate their unique abilities to draw you in regardless of what is happening, and even if it is surreal as Elvis showing Nixon karate. Overall Elvis & Nixon is a lite bite of entertainment that may not stay long in the memory, but thanks to some wonderful acting and a truly nutty event is still intriguing. If your still curious about how it played out in reality, by all means search it up, because it isn’t as far fetched as it might seem.