Going in to Elvis & Nixon, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The trailers for the film showcased a wacky Michael Shannon and a bumbling Kevin Spacey as the titular characters and I was not sure if the film was going to work. Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon are two of the most parodied and imitated figures in history due to their distinct characteristics and I was worried that the film would be chock full of cheap caricatures. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by Elvis & Nixon.
In case you aren’t aware, the film follows Elvis Presley (Shannon) as he attempts to become a “Federal Agent-at-Large” for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. With the help of his friends (Alex Pettyfer and Johnny Knoxville), Elvis flies to Washington D.C. and successfully lands a meeting with President Richard Nixon (Spacey). Convinced by his staff (Colin Hanks and Evan Peters) that the meeting will improve his image with the nation’s youth, Nixon meets the rock star in the Oval Office where comedic events ensure.
This event was made famous when the picture (seen below) was released to the public. The photograph of the two personalities is the most requested picture from the National Archives ever.
While the film is based off of the true story, it isn’t an accurate representation of the meeting which actually works in the film’s favor. Nobody truly knows what happened in that meeting but it most likely took 2 minutes, they posed for a photograph, and parted ways. However, Elvis & Nixon is what writers Joey and Hanala Sagal and director Liza Johnson imagine what the meeting could have been like. This creative decision leads to some great comedy and gives more room for the 2 actors to shine.
Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey are very much established as formidable forces in the film industry and their performances in this film are admirable, especially given the circumstances. Neither actor attempt to go full on with their characters’ famous accents which ends up being a very smart decision. It is no secret that Shannon and Spacey don’t quite resemble their characters to nth degree but because they were able to capture the intrinsic nature of the figures, the looks are just a side note.
One thing that I must stress is that this film is very much a comedy. Elvis is a little off the deep end but he is so likable that his craziness comes off as lovable. Shannon’s mannerisms itself are humorous with the majority of comedy coming off of his interactions with normal people who are in awe of the presence of The King. Nixon is also shocked with the way that Presley carries himself and is captivated by him which leads to playful interactions between him and his staff.
Most of the film is the journey for Elvis to get into the same room as the President, which may disappoint some people. In fact, Spacey’s Nixon is hardly in the film until the third act but Elvis’ relationships with his friends and strangers he meets along the way keep you plenty entertained until the amazingly captivating meeting with Nixon. While it may not be completely true, the film owns that and thrives through it, even including written text at the end stating “Elvis never went undercover as a Federal Agent-at-Large… or did he?”
Elvis & Nixon is a tremendous little romp through the crazy event, which never attempts to be a biopic of the lives of the titular characters. Liza Johnson’s film leaves you with the satisfying feeling of merriment. The setup to the inevitable meeting has the similitude of a heist movie that has the pay off of seeing a rockstar demonstrate karate to the President of the United States.