Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Film: 'Elvis and Nixon'

You need to forget that Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey look nothing like the original figures they are portraying. What Spacey lacks in the actual President's physical stature he makes up in his voice and mannerisms, whereas I found Shannon's Presley voice more lightweight than I'd have expected though, it must be said, there is very little of the King's everyday speaking voice recorded for posterity, apart from that in his film acting roles. 
Having got over these hurdles, I found this a reasonably entertaining film, improving as it went along.

It centres on Elvis' wish to meet with the President in 1970 in order to offer his 'services' as an undercover agent(!) to assist with the fight against drugs which he sees as part of an endemic wholesale corruption of the young. When Nixon first hears of the attempt to meet him he laughs it off, showing no interest at all, but then it's put to him that it could be played to political advantage. So Presley's persistence eventually pays off with a reluctant President allowing him an audience of five minutes max. 
One of the things we surmise about the meeting (no records were kept) was that it lasted significantly longer. The absence of any record of the conversation between the two men allows the film's storytellers to create a scenario in which the singer wins the politician over, and achieves - though there's considerable doubt about it - most of his desire. This is a fiction rather than an attempt at historical accuracy, and we can go along with that. 
We see little of Nixon in the film's first half - he features in a brief opening scene. The remainder of this under-90 minute film is all about the meeting, the humour arising from Elvis' ignoring or forgetting to observe the instructions of dos-and-don'ts on acceptable behaviour given to him before being ushered into the Oval Office, and then Nixon being confused and put out by his guest's bold conduct, together with his own gaucheness regarding social etiquette in a situation outside his experience.

Both stars do well with the material they are given, which is quite strong. It's a pleasant little diversion, hardly earth-shattering, but director Liza Johnson hadn't intended that it should be.
A fair recommendation........................6.


  1. Not interested......but am just home after seeing the wonderful Turkish movie MUSTANG

    1. I think you've got to have an interest in the notion of this meeting in the first place, J.G. If you just don't care then it's not worth spending time and money on this piece of froth.

      I saw 'Mustang' six weeks ago and was likewise impressed, giving it a '7'.

  2. Nixon and Elvis?? What an incredibly unappealing combination - - although I will say that the premise of the film is unique and actually quite interesting. I think I would watch it.

    You're certainly correct in saying that Spacey and Shannon look nothing like the figures they are portraying - yet they're merely actors representing the real people.

    Long ago when Spacey was younger, I used to have a crush on him. I never thought he was handsome - - but I did think he had sex appeal.

    You can rest assured I've never had a crush on Nixon....

    1. Jon, I think it was 'L.A.Confidential' that brought to me an awareness of Spacey, so that's about the youngest I've ever known him.
      In recent years, his tenureship of London's Old Vic theatre for several years, now over, raised his profile here immensely, especially since his occupying the position was generally hailed as a great success. imaginative, daring and pioneering.

      I think that this Presley/Nixon meeting is well documented to have taken place, though as I say above, nothing is known about what they said to one another, which gives the writers free reign on speculation. I think it worked out quite well - the film, I mean.

    2. Jon, it wasn't in 'L.A.Conf' that I first noticed Spacey, but two years earlier, in 'The Usual Suspects' (!995)

  3. I remember this story. Mr. Presley wanted to be an agent. Fascinating.

    1. It must have been one of those rare times when we outside the U.S. were more aware of it than many Americans themselves were. I thought this proposed meeting, whether it took place or not, was
      fairly common knowledge, but apparently not so. Maybe we are better at spreading rumours - or it could have been the more sensational edges of our notorious press that teased it out.