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Elvis & Nixon
USA 2016
Directed by Liza Johnson
Running time 87 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


Liza Johnson's film is so wrong it's almost right.  Unfortunately “almost” is the operative word as most of its perverse appeal seems unintended as it lurches between a genuine interest in its subjects and a dry parodying of them.

Purporting to tell the untold true story behind the most requested photograph in the National Archives, an image immortalising the December 21, 1970 meeting between Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) and U.S. President Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey).  The film charts Elvis's efforts to offer his skills as an undercover agent in order to help avert the tide of drug use and social disintegration that he believes is destroying the good ol' U.S. of A. Nixon barely knows who Elvis is and sees no point in the meeting but the meeting goes off like a bang as the two men share their common world philosophy.  Well, at least according to this film's writers, Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes.

Whilst the performances by Shannon and Spacey are the real reasons to watch the film these are not necessarily good ones. Spacey, who is well-known for his mimicry skills has clearly studied footage of Nixon and at least initially he is very convincing but, as with most mimicry. this only works in the short term, his portrayal tending gradually to suggest Ed Sullivan more than the Pres.  Shannon, who is credited as an executive producer, is a marvellous actor but a chameleon he is not and the problem here is that he looks nothing like nor has the demeanour of Presley (which seems most apparent in a droll scene in which he is mistaken as an Elvis impersonator by a pair of real Elvis impersonators). This is fine for the film's parodic guise but counter-productive when it comes to proffering insights into the real Elvis. Nixon at one point describes the singer as “young and good-looking”, neither of which Shannon is and his bouffant wig only emphasises the incongruity.

The result is that we remain outside the story, preoccupied by matters of execution rather than being drawn into the characters' story. Some effort is made to broaden the story by introducing mirroring pairs of aides for the two men but this adds little and on Presley's side only gives us more distracting wig work.  

Elvis fans will no doubt hate the film which depicts The King still lean but in an advanced stage of loopiness, locked into an inescapable prison of fame (unfortunately there is no singing, something which have pushed the film into the realm of merciless black comedy). In stopping short of that Elvis & Nixon doesn't seem to know what it wants to be and will at best appeal to collectors of curiosities.

FYI: The story has already been told in the 1997 Showtime TV movie, Elvis Meets Nixon, apparently to better effect.

Available from: Entertainment One

 

 

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