The untold true story behind the meeting between Elvis Presley, the King of Rock 'n Roll, and President Richard Nixon, resulting in this revealing, yet humorous moment immortalized in the most requested photograph in the National Archives.
On a December morning in 1970, the King of Rock 'n Roll showed up on the lawn of the White House to request a meeting with the most powerful man in the world, President Nixon. Starring Academy Award® nominee Michael Shannon as Elvis Presley and two-time Academy Award® winner Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon, comes the untold true story behind this revealing, yet humorous moment in the Oval Office forever immortalized in the most requested photograph in the National Archives. Written by
One is the king of rock and roll, one is the king of the United States. Whoever would have thought these two very different minds of two very different backgrounds would ever be seen in the same photo together? No transcript exists on these events, just a photograph that now has become the most requested photo from the US National Archives. Now here, in Elvis & Nixon, director Liza Johnson gives her interpretation of these events. It opens with the president receiving notification that the King has planned a visit, then this rather funny scene transitions immediately into a fun opening credits sequence full of 70's pop art against historical photographs of the two figures. From here, you learn some engaging facts that encourage further research, which sadly is supported by little excitement and little drama.
This historical documentation surveys an entirely separate side of Elvis from what the millennials may know about him. Did you know that he had a deputy's badge from Memphis? I sure didn't. It also turns out that he went to meet Nixon so that he could become a Federal Agent At Large in order to influence the American youth that tainted the country's image with the Hippie movement. Being America's most famous icon of the time, he decided to take advantage of his image by proposing possible anti-drug initiatives to the White House, including some drug-themed songs with other singers. The politicians all found it absurd to let someone like Elvis Presley meet the president of the United States, but since he's won the heart of all the voters in the south, the meeting gets the approval seal.
Revolutionary Road's Michael Shannon plays the King of Rock, and he talks as smooth, calm and collected as you'd think Elvis would be while not in front of a crowd. Unfortunately, he's not quite the right fit for the role, as he doesn't carry the project as well as he could. It's not that he's bad, he just doesn't put enough soul into the part.
It's otherwise intriguing to see what details are used to illustrate Mr. Presley. He still has all his little quirks that you expect from the King: he orders a maple bar from a donut shop, he calls the Beatles anti-American, and he says "thank you, thank you very much" right before sending people off with "sayonara." He watches three different television screens simultaneously and carries an assortment of diamond-studded pistols. There's more: he also had a twin brother who was born thirty-five minutes before him, only to die minutes later, and it makes him question how things would have gone if he was born first. It's stimulating and almost inspiring to see this unknown side to Elvis that actually cared about the American image and took the initiative for his beliefs.
However, this fascinating approach is supported by a rather clumsy first half. Elvis & Nixon was intended to generate laughter, but the laughs are far and few in-between, with dull scenes that either go nowhere or are composed of odd pauses between sentences. There are great additions such as fangirls working at the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs obsessing over Elvis's visit; the issue is that it's just too underplayed for what it had potential for. In fact, Elvis's interaction with Nixon should have started right from the get-go without an hour-long setup, because that is where the real funny begins. These moments express some beautifully uncomfortable humor between a celebrity and the president, made all the better by the naturally flowing chemistry between Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey. I will admit, Spacey probably wasn't the right fit for the part: his mouth looks just like Nixon's but not his eyes. But that's more a bash on the casting director than the actor himself. Spacey still talks just as raspy as Mr. Nixon, and it's easy to tell that he took the character as seriously as if on House of Cards.
This is not the most spectacular piece of work you will ever see, you may not even remember it a week after seeing it, but it still gives a thought-provoking perspective on the influence that our celebrities have on our politics. Think of the artists of today. Consider how Taylor Swift's 1989 album influenced everyone's relationship expectations. Think back on the influence that John Lennon's Imagine shaped the hope everyone felt on the world. And don't get me started on all that Justin Bieber's went through. If you aren't dying to see Elvis & Nixon a second or even a first time, you can still bear in mind how our American icons influence far more than what we listen to in our spare time; the actions they take define what makes America the great nation we see it as.
Overall Grade: C+
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