Elvis & Nixon is a movie spun out from a single moment – a meeting between Elvis Presley and President Richard Nixon in December 1970, which resulted in a picture of the two of them, which is apparently the most requested image from the US National Archive. Here we get Michael Shannon as a surprisingly good Elvis, and Kevin Spacey as a slightly more human Nixon that we might be used to.
The movie picks up a while before the meeting, with Elvis fed up with the direction the country is heading – he doesn’t like hippies, the anti-Vietnam protests or The Beatles – so he decides he wants to become a Federal Agent and go undercover to help sort things out. While Elvis is used to having people around who organise his life for him, he decides he’s got to sort this out himself, reaching out to his long-time friend, Jerry (Alex Pettyfer), to help him.
It proves more difficult to set up the meeting than expected, with Elvis deciding to go straight to the White House to deliver a letter, a more forthright method than those in government are used to from big celebrities. Nixon meanwhile can’t see the point of meeting The King, although his aides think he ought to.
There’s some fun to be had with Elvis & Nixon, but also a few frustrations. The biggest is that while it may be a famous photograph, the movie never quite works out why we should care about how it came about. It tries to make the whole thing a bit of a crazy romp, and for decent chunks of the film it succeeds in just being amusing for its own absurdity. It’s difficult to escape though the nagging feeling at the back of your brain that despite the relatively short 85-minute runtime, you’re watching something not that important or fascinating happen quite slowly.
There are times when it feels like it’s reaching for something more than purely an unlikely tale, such as that you have two men increasingly losing touch of the real world but who at that moment were at the height of their popularity and power. Nixon was just 18 months from the Watergate break in, while Elvis might be against drugs in the movie, but was becoming increasingly dependent on prescription medication and would die a few years later. However, it never really does anything with it, and it feels a bit like a missed opportunity.
Luckily the meeting, when it finally happens, is a lot of fun, and helps ensure that you don’t feel cheated at the end. It’s particularly fun to see this more human Nixon, who doesn’t quite know what to do with the larger than life performer, both warming to him and being oddly perturbed by his presence – although Nixon definitely knows he needs to get an autograph for his daughter. It all makes for an okay hour and a half but ultimately it’s a bit something and nothing.
Overall Verdict: There’s some fun to be had with Elvis & Nixon, but it comes in fits and starts and never quite finds its point to exist.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac