Released: June 2016
Director: Liza Johnson
Tell most people you’re going to watch a film about The King meeting the President and most will assume a diplomatic movie maybe, perhaps something about spies or the war. In this case, it’s the both fanciful and true meeting of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon that is the subject of our attention, and it’s a delight.
The meeting the whole film revolves around did happen, but in 1970, a year before Nixon started to record every conversation in the White House. If there could have been one silver lining from Watergate, it would have been if that meeting was kept for posterity. As it is, all we have is one page of vague notes typed up by an assistant, and a corny photo of the two shaking hands.
From this tiny nugget, the writers of Elvis & Nixon have teased out a surreal and funny 90 minutes. Following Elvis from his lonely house through to the meeting itself, the unlikely similarities between Elvis and Nixon are teased out. Both are feeling increasingly isolated from youth culture, and are both sceptical and somewhat fearful of a scene they do not understand. Elvis plans to become a Federal Agent at Large, a title he made up, and take down drug users and feeding information back to the FBI.
Kevin Spacey makes an excellent Nixon, clearly enjoying playing the many ticks and mannerisms that graced the President but not letting them become the entire character. Michael Shannon manages to show the vulnerable side to Elvis, the nerves and the worry, without losing any of the swagger or style we expect from the King. It’s a film that leans heavily on the two leads. The dialogue is good, and gives them good ground to stand on, but in the same way it’s the people that make the actual meeting spark our imaginations, it’s the people in this that keep your interest, not just what they’re saying. Colin Hanks also puts in an excellent turn as overworked advisor/lackey Bud Krogh, a part very much in his usual range of “man in suit”, but no less pleasingly portrayed for that.
It is, fundamentally, a flimsy film. It has no great message, no real plot. Nothing happens, no one has time to change or grow, there is no peril (besides potential for embarrassment, which is peril enough for a British audience) and no big questions. In many respects, it’s the best tv movie you’ve ever seen at the cinema, and that’s actually remarkably refreshing.