**The following is an in-depth review of “Elvis & Nixon” and does contain spoilers.**
In December of 1970, Elvis Presley – the “King of Rock n Roll” and one of the biggest celebrities of the time – ran away from home.
Elvis had become restless with his life as basically a shut-in, and he needed to get away from it all. He needed an adventure. Something that was crazy and that he would never have been able to do under normal circumstances. Being a collector of law enforcement badges, Elvis quietly left his home on a cold December night and decided he was going to arrange a meeting with the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, and appeal to the leader of the free world to be made a federal agent-at-large. This is, of course, a title that has never existed in any U.S. law enforcement agency.
“Elvis & Nixon” tells the mostly true story of these events. Mostly true because no one really knows what actually happened. History does record certain events, but the specific details of these events remained known only to Elvis himself until his death in 1977.
Elvis did leave his Memphis, TN mansion without informing anyone. He did book passage aboard an American Airlines flight to Los Angeles, CA where he met up with a former employee and friend, Jerry Schilling. Elvis then booked a flight to Washington, D.C, stopped at a donut shop, and eventually did have a meeting with President Nixon in which he wore a purple velvet suit and matching cape.
These events, while absolutely true, are so ridiculous that they easily lend themselves to satire, and satire them this movie absolutely does. “Elvis & Nixon” is very much a comedy, and it isn’t the first time these events have been satired. A much more tongue-in-cheek version was produced in 1997 by premium cable network Showtime as “Elvis Meets Nixon.”
“Elvis & Nixon” stars Michael Shannon as Elvis Presley and Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon. Both men turn in marvelous performances, especially Spacey who is one of the most accomplished impressionists in Hollywood. The problem, however, is that Shannon – while an extremely talented actor who turns in a very sincere performance – looks and sounds nothing like Elvis. This, unfortunately, tends to take the viewer out of the film whenever Shannon’s Elvis is on screen.
In spite of Shannon being a less than convincing Elvis, the movie still manages to be very entertaining. The script is smart and the directing is above par. Shannon does a good job of embodying the personality and charm of Elvis, but he’s just so physically different from The King that it becomes distracting.
While the movie does have a wonderful soundtrack of 70s rock hits, it’s conspicuously lacking in any actual Elvis songs. For Elvis fans, this is mildly disappointing.
Much like Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon,” Kevin Spacey nails Nixon perfectly, despite no attempt being made to make his facial features more mirror those of Nixon with make-up or prosthetics. Had Shannon been able to muster a more convincing Elvis voice and some of Elvis’ trademark mannerism, he might have been better able to overcome the drastic difference in appearance between he and Elvis.
In spite of its flaws – which most assuredly are minute – “Elvis & Nixon” still manages to be an amazingly entertaining movie. While much more serious than the outright parody that was “Elvis Meets Nixon,” “Elvis & Nixon” is still very funny, almost to the point of making your sides hurt in some parts.
The funniest sequence in the film comes once Elvis makes it into the Oval Office. After being briefed on how to behave and proper White House etiquette, Elvis proceeds to break every rule he was given. It almost comes off as Elvis just being Elvis, which makes it all the funnier. He’s Elvis Presley and he’ll do what he wants.
“Elvis & Nixon” is by no means a perfect movie, but it comes awfully close. I honestly can’t recommend this movie enough.