Elvis & Nixon Review – An Enjoyable Cultural Flashback

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Elvis & Nixon, from Bleecker Street Productions and Amazon Studios, brings to the screen the fictionalized account of the December 21, 1970 meeting between the two most powerful men in the known world, President Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley.

Elvis & Nixon opens with a burst of the psychedelic seventies jumping off the screen with opening screen credits colorized with pop art of the era. From the beginning the music is a mix of 1970’s Rhythm and Blues, Southern Rock, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sam & Dave, Blood Sweat & Tears and Otis Redding. The soundtrack is smoking hot and kicks the film into high gear.

Directed by Liza Johnson, Elvis & Nixon stars Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Sky Ferreira, Tracey Letts and Tate Donovan. The film was written by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes.

Elvis & Nixon begins with a pan of the exterior of a large white house decorated for the Christmas season. Obviously not the White House, a location title flashes across the screen, and throughout the film, and we are in Graceland, the palatial estate of Elvis Presley, played by Michael Shannon.

Following the camera, the director introduces the audience to Elvis’ viewing habits with six screens going he is surfing channels waiting. Suddenly, he pulls out a revolver and fires into the screen. The time for sitting idly by is over.

The next shot has The King walking into the American Airlines terminal at 2:00am, carrying a revolver with only his local Sherriff badge as his identification. Instantly and adoringly recognized, he is none the less reported for his firearms and barred from boarding.

This is when we met Elvis’ extended road crew. Jerry, played by Alex Pettyfer, working late at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles when he receives a cryptic call. Elvis is in trouble and the calm under pressure, Jerry, who always manages to find the right solution works his magic and Elvis handles the once unmanageable situation and is on the red eye to L.A.

The two are good friends and especially at the pinnacle where Elvis lived it was difficult to have friends who were friends for all the right reasons. Soon Elvis is explaining his discontent with the anti-American fervor taking over the nation and how he believes given the right credentials he could be of great service to his country.

Enlisting Jerry in his undertaking, the two are flying to Washington D.C to meet President Nixon, played by Kevin Spacey.

Nixon, who as history tells us recorded everything in his office. The meeting however was not recorded and no evidence other than the iconic image of the two men exists. The career destroying tapping would begin after the infamous meeting with The King

Arranging a meeting with an intensely private and paranoid Nixon was nothing short of impossible for even members of his own staff let alone, the self-proclaimed King of rock and roll. Deciding the direct route was the best way to secure the meeting in the small window of time dictated to the White House Nixon’s Chief of Staff, Egil Krogh, played by Colin Hanks and Scheduling Coordinator Dwight Chapin played by Evan Peters.

The next scenes show Elvis working his celebrity magic, having the right words to cover his inappropriate actions for the realization of his goals in his timing. His public relations specialist, Jerry, accompanied him as the hand delivered a handwritten letter to the White House gate. To all, except Nixon, he was The King, the most widely known and celebrated musical God. To Nixon, he was an unknown.

As the support staff, after the guards at the gate accepted the letter, were women, Elvis was the fantasy they dare not mention.

Believing reinforcements would be needed Jerry contacts, Sonny, played by Johnny Knoxville, the wild man of the roadie crew. Dropping Elvis’ name had become his favorite pastime as it enabled him to score just about everything he wanted or needed.

After the meeting was rejected, the magic man Jerry, steps in and as all agree arranging the meeting is the goal, Sonny steps up with a key demographic that had all been overlooked. Within minutes the meeting was arranged and the youthful Krogh was tasked with dictating protocol to The King.

This is really one of my favorite scenes in the entire film. Even as the goal is secure the meeting, photo and autographs, the arrogance of the young Krogh is comical as the audience without knowing how the next scenes play out can explain the high points.

Elvis doesn’t disappoint and soon the tables are turned and the maximum of five minutes lingers into 25 and longer.

I enjoyed Elvis & Nixon. From the beginning, even as the music set the tone, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Throughout this film I saw two intensely capable talents take on roles of two distinguished, widely known, iconic men in history. What do you do with that?

The easy route is simple impersonation which neither Kevin Spacey nor Michael Shannon decided to take.

If you are looking for someone who can conjure the hidden fantasy of yesteryear, I don’t expect this to be it. Michael Shannon is impressive. His choices for Elvis are limited to fictionalizing a life documented. He does it well.

Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon is charismatic. He reaches and polishes elements of Nixon that make it original. When the two share the screen the play well off each other presenting a historical, off the record, meeting of Titans.

Spacey’s Nixon was very good and Shannon's Elvis was surprising. The two powerhouses playing two icons is funny and some parts more humorous.

Elvis & Nixon is an entertaining, fun film and worth a trip to the box office. The location shots of Los Angeles, circa 1970, give the film the little extra nuggets of truth which aren’t really necessary and still nice to see. The soundtrack is a toe tapping, mental singalong, and jumps off the screen.

Elvis & Nixon opens in select cities April 22, 2015. Check local listings.

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