Elvis & Nixon: Starring Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey

elvis_&_nixon_posterTeaming Michael Shannon as Elvis Presley and Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon is admittedly a coup of casting, but Elvis & Nixon is such a trifle that it barely amounts to a curio item.

A high-concept indie, it lacks substance, perspective, or anything interesting to say about these two iconic figures.






On December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley showed up at the White House, with a note he had just written on his American Airlines stationery to the most powerful man in the world, President Richard Nixon.

Elvis expressed his strong interest t0 meet the president, but there was also an agenda: He was seeking a badge to be a federal agent in order to help fight the rising drug culture and the hippie elements, which he held were destroying the best elements of American society.

elvis_&_nixon_8_baconThe initial reaction of Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman (Tate Donovan), was “You must be kidding.” And later on, when Nixon’s aides propose the meeting to their boss, his spontaneous reaction is, “Who the fuck set this up?”

Some of the aides get a kick out of Elvis’s childish note, and they also think it’s good for the popularity of their square leader in getting the youth vote. Nixon at first objects, but the aides enlist his daughter Julie, who wants a signed photo with the King.

elvis_&_nixon_7_hanksBut that “crazy” meeting did take place–several hours later.  In fact, this historical rendez-vous led to a strange Oval Office photo.  It quickly became the most sought after image, even more in demand than that of iconic photo of the first man walking on the moon, according to the National Archives.  (Imagine if this encounter took place today and went viral globally….)

Since there is no tape-recording or transcripts, we can only fantasize about the nature of the meeting and the subjects that were discussed.  As directed by Liza Johnson, the movie lacks in factual material, but tries to make up for this absence with bizarre, often quirky humor.

elvis_&_nixon_6_hanksThe film benefits from an original premise, and great set-up, but it’s plotless, having hard time filling its short duration (about 80 minutes).  As it is, Elvis & Nixon should have been great as a short of 20 minutes or so.

The secondary characters are even less intriguing than the protagonists.  Take, for instance, Elvis’s friend, Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer), who asks the legendary singer to go back to Los Angeles and see his girlfriend, but it’s not clear why is it urgent.

elvis_&_nixon_5In a flashback, set two days earlier, we observe Elvis watching TV news at his home in Tennessee. Upset by the footage, he suddenly pulls a gun and shoots the TV set–it’s ascene that comes out of nowhere.



elvis_&_nixon_4In another arbitrary but quite funny scene, set on his way to Washington DC, Elvis is approached by his impersonators in an airport lounge.  They mistake the real Elvis as one of them, and want to compare notes with him  (Apparently it was quite easy to mimic and Impersonate the King’s look and manners, if not distinctive voice and singing).

Elvis turns up in his black suit and huge gold belt buckle, loaded with his prized handguns. He is given all kinds of instructions. like not to touch the president’s M&Ms or his Dr. Pepper. But he disregards them.

elvis_&_nixon_3_shannonDuring the encounter, if the scenario is to be believed, Elvis offers hugs, poses for a photo, and even shows his famous karate skills. Later that day, he gets his official agent badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, issued by an eccentric officer (Tracy Letts).


elvis_&_nixon_2_shannon_spaceyNeither actor resembles physically the larger-than-life characters that they play, and to their credit it should be noted that they don’t try to mimic them. Yet, both Shannon and Spacey are remarkable performers with impressive range, and so each captures the essence of their respective real-life persona. (I suspect that the rehearsal and shooting processes must have been fun for the thespians, and more entertaining than for us viewers watching it).

elvis_&_nixon_1_shannonUltimately, Elvis &Nixon is a trifle, lacking any exciting insights about either man or political context; after all, the country was in the midst of the Vietnam War.



Released by Amazon Studios/Bleecker Street


Running time: 85 minutes.