Elvis & Nixon Plot Summary:
Based on the true story of when Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) met President Nixon (Kevin Spacey) in an attempt to be deputized as a secret agent of the Government.
Batman v Superman. Captain America v Iron Man. Now we have Elvis v Nixon?!? Well, not really. What we do have is an entire film based off a photograph, and according to this movie, the most requested photograph there is in the National Archives. That I can understand. What I don’t understand is making an entire movie based off that one photo. I know on the surface that seems like a clever idea to write a movie about, but there wasn’t enough material here to sustain an entire feature length film. Not to say this movie is bad, because the actors sure as hell save it.
Michael Shannon might be the most under appreciated actor working in Hollywood. His performance as Elvis Presley is astounding. It actually makes me angry that he’s wasted in such a small scale picture, as Shannon would have made a great Elvis for an all out biopic. While Elvis was WAY before my time, there’s no doubt he was a fascinating figure, and Shannon captures that flawlessly. While Elvis seems like a genuine guy, he’s still a demanding star, and the way his ego is explored is easily the best part of this whole movie. He shows up at the White House and just assumes the most powerful man in the world will take a meeting with him that day. He’s confused as to why he has to jump through hoops to get this accomplished. When the two finally meet, it’s not even a thought for him that he isn’t the more important figure in the room. That’s hilarious.
Speaking of the President, Kevin Spacey took a while for me to warm up too. The best portrayal of Nixon is still Frank Langella in 2008’s brilliant Frost/Nixon, but this is pretty damn good. At first, Spacey comes off as a cartoon, which is an easy road to take when playing Nixon. As the movie goes along though, Spacey completely transforms. The meeting between Elvis and Nixon is where I forgot Kevin Spacey was on screen. That’s impressive. The actual meeting is by far the best scene of the film. These are two people who couldn’t be more opposite, and that’s why it’s compelling. While awkward and funny, it’s also fascinating. Unfortunately, this is the only part of the film that wowed me.
Everything leading up to this meeting is either passable or totally underwhelming. The idea of Elvis wanting to meet the President so he can get a badge isn’t high stakes, yet that’s what the film tries to sell us on. There’s a scene where Elvis gets denied his meeting, and he’s banging on a vending machine in frustration. I’m sitting here watching this and saying to myself, “I don’t care.” This is the conflict? He doesn’t get a meeting with the President for something fairly meaningless? Who cares?
What saves this film again is the acting. Aside from the two main guys, the movie is littered with good supporting players. Alex Pettyfer, a guy who completely fell off the map in garbage like I Am Number Four and Beastly, is great as Elvis’ right hand man. We appreciate him because he represents what it’s like working for a man who truly believes he’s bigger than the world. Evan Peters and Colin Hanks are also funny as Nixon’s aides, and the guys who have to convince Nixon to even meet with Elvis. When Colin Hanks first pops up, I literally thought it was Tom Hanks for a moment. Wow. I guess he’s come a long way since 2002’s Orange County. Remember that “gem?”
Unfortunately, the writing doesn’t do these characters any favors. There are scenes with great potential, such as Elvis going through White House security, or when Elvis and Nixon’s aide are getting strict rules on meeting one another. These could have been far better scenes, but are totally undercooked. Every scene with Elvis is essentially relegated to people swooning over him when he walks into a room. That’s lazy writing. The score is also horrendous. You would think a movie with Elvis Presley would have great music accompaniment, but it really kills the rhythm of the film. It’s like they took the score for Ocean’s 11, made it worse, than combined it with a 90’s Rom-Com track.
The acting makes this movie worth watching on VOD, and for as bored as I was throughout most of it, I still felt the anticipation leading up to their epic meeting. This is something that should have been a thirty minute documentary though, at best.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (‘Meh’)
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.