When you think of Elvis Presley you think ‘The King’ and a whole lot of hip shaking, not top secret super-agent and BFF of Nixon. Well, Elvis and Nixon looks to change that as it unfolds the ‘based on a true story’ events behind the most requested photo in the national archives: ‘that one time Nixon and Elvis shook hands’. And yes, that is totally the official title, it’s in a love-heart splattered scrapbook and everything. While the sheer thought of Nixon and Elvis being in the same room together talking about ‘secret agent stuff’ does sound compelling, does it make a good movie? Well, slap on your gold rimmed glasses and dust off your Vegas girdle, because this might be bigger than the Watergate scandal.
It turns out the presidency aged Frank Underwood so hard he turned into Richard Nixon.
Elvis and Nixon is a comedy-drama directed by Liza Johnson, starring Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, Man of Steel) as Elvis Presley and Kevin Spacey (American Beauty, Se7en) as Richard Nixon. The story stems from the iconic image of Nixon and Presley meeting in the oval office, and tells of Elvis’ madcap plan to be sworn in as a ‘federal agent-at-large’. No one told Elvis that this was both highly unlikely, and not an actual job. But when you’re ‘The King’ you tend to want what you want (Prince demanded camels after all) and from this comes a zany ‘based on a true story’ tale of a rock star and his fairy-god-President coming together to make his secret agent dreams come true for the betterment of America. So, does this unlikely pairing make for a solid comedy? In so many words, yes. While not a quickfire comedy, this is more along the lines of ‘Burn After Reading’ and ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats’; a well written comedy with solid performers that’s a little different to what you’re used to.
Elvis learns that his friend is secretly 1970’s Tom Hardy
The key to this film’s success is its two leads, thankfully better comedic casting could not have been done here as Shannon and Spacey shine as The King and The President. Shannon is suitably quirky as Elvis, with distinctive mannerisms and a cavalier attitude, while Spacey was (for me) arguably funnier as the gruff former President Nixon, who always seemed like he was all out of time and bothered to give (for the kiddies, a la Winnie the Pooh) about whatever his reps placed in front of him. Supporting our leads, we have Colin Hanks (Fargo, Orange County) and Evan Peters (American Horror Story, X-Men Apocalypse) as two famous White House associates of the Nixon era, whom don’t offer a whole lot of comedy to the mix but are perfectly fine all the same. Elvis brings his own entourage in the form of Alex Pettyfer (I am Number Four) and good ol’ Johnny Knoxville (Jackass, MIB II); the former being a lifelong friend of Elvis and the latter a close associate from Graceland. No you won’t hear “Hi I’m Johnny Knoxville, and welcome to Graceland”, but you will see enough of each of these characters to appreciate their roles; which while small, offers a lot more character to Elvis than you’d expect. All around the whole cast works well together, but Shannon and Spacey undeniably (and deservedly) steal the show.
General Zod and Lex Luthor discuss the irony of being in the same movie. And killing Superman.
With a solid cast comes the other selling point of this film: the writing, which is thanks to Joey and Hanala Sagal and Robin Hood himself, Cary Elwes. I guess it’s true what they say, men in tights can write comedy after all – ohhhhh Shakespearean buuuurrrn. As I previously mentioned, this is not a comedy in the vein of ‘The Hangover’ or ‘Central Intelligence’ in the sense that it is a fast firing joke-fest. Elvis and Nixon is a little more left of field, favouring quirky moments and character specific jokes that definitely land well, and even offer some clever commentary if you look hard enough. The most interesting thing about this film however is the blend of comedy and drama, which if explained on paper may appear out of place but with the exceptional performers at work here is delivered very well. Shannon gives a scene or two that shift quickly (yet naturally) from comedic to very heartfelt, and these were the standout moments for me in the entire film. There is gravity to some of this writing that gives a lot of heart to characters that occupy what sounds like a rather silly situational comedy.
The original photograph of the moment Elvis and Nixon signed the record deal for ‘Watergate Wa-hoo’
Nixon is primarily played for comedy, however the dramatic dialogue is spread evenly between Elvis and his close friend Jerry (Alex Pettyfer), whom is torn between the world of show business and his home life. Elvis acts as a sort of ‘dark mirror’ for this, reflecting to Alex what may result from being ‘married to the job’. This is interestingly paralleled by Colin Hanks at one point as well, as his character remarks on the political workplace as ‘the biggest stage in the world’. Coming back to ‘clever commentary’, Hanks also delivers the line “You want me to tell the President to ‘speed it up’?”, which was an almost too-subtle-to-be-true reference to when Don Regan (former CEO of Merrill Lynch) told former President Ronald Reagan to ‘speed it up’ during a speech.
Political commentary or just a coincidence? Watch this and ‘Capitalism: A Love Story’ and you tell me.
“Okay, I’ll be my father in Bridge of Spies, and you be Evan Peters”
Ultimately there is little to say about Elvis and Nixon that I haven’t already covered; it’s a solid comedy that’s a little off the general viewing radar. I tend to enjoy comedies like this myself, and coupled with a fascination with the Nixon presidency this was right up my alley. This isn’t to say that this film has a niche audience, I actually think most people will enjoy this movie much like I did. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but I doubt those who do see it will be disappointed. If you’re watching a movie called ‘Elvis and Nixon’ you kind of know what you’re in for, right?
A well written, directed and performed film, Elvis and Nixon has traded in its flared Vegas pants for a more stable career; there’s nothing bombastically brilliant about Elvis and Nixon, but it is a perfectly good comedy/drama.
Elvis and Nixon is available on home video on October 12th. Check out the eOne website here for more details.
Now can I say it? Can I say it?
Elvis has left the building.
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SUMMARY: A quirky tale of the meeting of ‘The King’ and The President, based on the true events surrounding one iconic photograph. An all around decent comedy with some exceptional moments from a talented cast. Well written, directed and light enough to be an easy watch for anyone. Perhaps not overly memorable, but a far cry from a bad film. Check it out!