Even in a world where a reality TV star has a shot at entering the White House, the photograph of Elvis Presley shaking hands with Richard Nixon stands out as one of the weirder moments in American politics. Little is known about the context of that famous picture, and in Elvis & Nixon director Liza Johnson gives us a glimpse of what a meeting between these very different icons might have been like.
Neither Michael Shannon nor Kevin Spacey do particularly convincing impressions, but they imbue the King and the President with real depth; these are two towering figures both visibly past their prime. Spacey’s Nixon is a far cry from Frank Underwood, with his gruff demeanour and a suit that never seems to fit. Shannon, meanwhile, resists any urge to crack out a Johnny Bravo impression, opting for an almost raspy voice instead of a Southern slur. This is a man lost under the weight of his own stage persona, desperate to make some real difference to the world in his own quixotic way.
Watching Shannon and Spacey finally get to lock horns in the Oval Office is an absolute joy, which makes it so frustrating that the film takes so long to put the two of them together in a room. Instead we get a series of West Wing-lite walk-and-talk sequences, and an uninspired subplot involving a former member of Elvis’ entourage (a bland Alex Pettyfer) trying to resist being pulled back into the star’s orbit.
There’s no way to play this particular meeting of minds seriously, and thankfully Elvis & Nixon doesn’t even try to. It would have been better with a little less action and a little more conversation, but wonderfully left-field performances from its two leads make this a surreal delight of a movie.
CAST: Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Johnny Knoxville, Alex Pettyfer, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters
DIRECTOR: Liza Johnson
WRITERS: Cary Elwes, Joe Sagal, Suzan Stadner
SYNOPSIS: The untold true story behind the meeting between Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and President Richard Nixon.