Elvis & Nixon tells a (mostly true?) story of the legendary meeting between The Most Powerful Man in the World and The King. The story is the stuff of legend: Elvis Presley, concerned with the direction that his country was headed, decided to meet with the President to discuss what could be done to rectify the situation. Of course, Elvis being Elvis, he simply pulled up to the North Gate of the White House and handed the guards a hand-written letter addressed to Richard Nixon and then went back to his hotel to wait for the invitation. Needless to say, the President had far more important things to worry about than meeting some pop singer, but with some persuasion and outright manipulation the meeting of giants took place on December 21, 1970.
The photograph that was taken during this meeting is still the most frequently requested photo from the National Archives.
Frankly, I don’t know much about Elvis or Nixon, and perhaps that’s why I was able to enjoy this film. I read reviews by the experts in politics and pop-music critisizing the film for its lack of historical accuracy, its absurd tone and errors in casting. But to me the movie felt entertaining and just absurd enough to be believable.
Michael Shannon looks nothing like Elvis, and Kevin Spacey beares a little resemblance to Nixon, but that doesn’t stop them from delivering stellar performances and perhaps even breathing new life into these familiar figures. Shannon does an especially fine job in conveying the two sides of Elvis: the quiet, lonely boy from Memphis who is yearning to be taken seriously and seen for who he really is; and the larger than life King of Rock’n’Roll who revels in his own brilliance and believes himself to be greater than any man, even the leader of the free world. Kevin Spacey has less material and screen time to work with, but he does a great job in portraying Nixon as a three-dimensional character who balances being the President, a father and a simple man from humble beginnings.
Elvis & Nixon is an interesting blend of fact and fiction that is able to strip away the superficial status symbols and show an intimate portrait of two great men relating to each other on a basic human level.