A deliciously entertaining melding of stranger-than-fiction historical document and rousing performance piece, Elvis and Nixon may not be the flashiest or even the smartest movie released this year, but it sure is terrifically acted and all kinds of fun.
On December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) turned up at the White House to request a meeting with President Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey), and the film covers the events leading up to this historic meet as well as the improbable pow-wow itself, which is truly bizarre beyond words and absolutely won’t be spoiled here.
Liza Johnson’s (Return and Hateship, Loveship) dramedy may not probe deep into the minds of these men and its account of events should certainly not be considered authoritative, but it crucially emphasises the hilariously absurd nature of these two iconic yet seemingly diametrically opposed figures clashing together.
The actual meeting itself only comprises a small sliver of the movie’s latter half, with the focus instead placed largely on Presley’s eccentric bid to hold court with any appointed government official who will listen. Shannon is so magnetically compelling in the role, though, that it’s hard to much care, even if this is absolutely at the expense of Spacey, whose performance is undeniably a supporting one by comparison. Spacey does, however, rise to the occasion as expected, his familiar countenance just barely peeking out of the President’s famously receding hairline.
The entire supporting cast are also absolutely terrific here, the standouts being Colin Hanks as Nixon official Egil Krogh and Alex Pettyfer as Jerry Schilling, a young member of Elvis’ entourage. Hell, even Johnny Knoxville feels completely at home as musician Sonny West, his ability to slink in alongside his co-stars no doubt aided by the slightly heightened feel the entire movie gives off.
With this many strong actors put together, often in small, claustrophobic rooms, even mediocre writing would probably be entertaining, and yet this is a script bursting with scorching wit and humour both stingingly reflective and more plausibly of-the-moment. Those seeking a more invasive examination of the two men should look elsewhere, but if you’re after an acting masterclass or two, Shannon and Spacey have got you covered.
Elvis & Nixon is in cinemas now