There have been some bizarre films made, and sometimes some truly peculiar real-life stories are translated into films. Elvis & Nixon is one of the strangest concepts of a film I’ve ever seen, mainly because the source material is a photograph – but not just any photograph, the world-famous photograph of the fateful meeting between Elvis Presley and President Richard Nixon, two men on completely different ends of the spectrum of fame. Elvis & Nixon is an interesting film because it delves into the meeting between the two men and constructs a somewhat fictional (yet still based in reality) story of these two men and the events that transpired prior to and during the meeting that resulted in one of the most iconic photographs in history.
Elvis & Nixon tells of the particular day in December 1970, where world-famous musical icon Elvis Presley decided he wanted to become a federal agent, and sought out the approval of President Richard Nixon, a man who finds this idea completely bizarre, and naturally refuses the meeting. However, when his aides inform him that a brief meeting between the two men would do wonders for Nixon’s crusty and negative reputation, he agrees to pay some lip-service to the entertainer, meeting with him for a few minutes. However, as the film shows, Elvis apparently won over Nixon with his strange and memorable personality, gaining somewhat of a new fan in the President of the United States. The degree to which this film is accurate is left to interpretation, because there honestly isn’t too much to go on other than the skeleton of the story – however, it is entertaining nonetheless.
How do you get people in to see a film with such an outlandish premise? It isn’t easy to make a biopic, and even biopics on the most popular and beloved entertainers need to be of interest to even the biggest fans, because biopics can often be cliched and unoriginal, and quite frankly, even utterly boring. This film covers the stories of two highly influential and notable individuals, but not the side many people expect (or even want) to see – when they think of a film about Richard Nixon, one wants to see his downfall from grace after the Watergate scandal. When audiences think of Elvis Presley, they want to see his scandalous and excessive personal life and his talent for performing – this film doesn’t touch on either of these subjects (except for mentioning it near the end, in a more matter-of-fact historical fashion) – so there is very little reason for audiences to go and see this film.
Personally, I was not as intrigued by this story, even as someone who adores American political history and musical history, because the story just doesn’t seem that noteworthy of anyone’s time – there is nothing this film showed that could not be gauged from reading an article or hearing about it as a piece of interesting trivia. However, there is one reason I expect anyone will go and see this film, which was precisely the reason why I saw Elvis & Nixon – the casting. I did not believe the casting of Elvis & Nixon was true until I actually saw proof of it – the idea of Kevin Spacey playing Richard Nixon and Michael Shannon playing Elvis Presley was utterly bizarre and could not possibly be real. However, its clear that it was absolutely true, and if there was ever a reason to go and pay to see this film, it is to see two of the most talented performers working today playing these characters.
Kevin Spacey is a performer we don’t deserve – he is such a tremendous actor and versatile actor, and his performance as Richard Nixon was truly transformative – I often forgot I was watching Spacey, because he caught all the subtle nuances of the character, from his voice to his posture to the little details that made this performance so fantastic. Michael Shannon is also a great performer, and with nearly a dozen performances that he will clock in this year alone, he is unusually prolific. I doubt either of these actors will be remembered for Elvis & Nixon, because they have both already done better work, but it proves that despite looking nothing like the people they are portraying, they were very convincing, and carried this film well. To fact remains that without their talented presences, Elvis & Nixon would have gone absolutely nowhere, because if unknown or less-famous actors were in this film, I doubt anyone would see it – it is the rare case of a story being completely carried by the performers.
Elvis & Nixon does have its flaws, and the biggest one is that the story was too weak, and thus a secondary storyline needed to be added – and it was one that was completely dull. Throughout this film, Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) plays a major role – and I wish he hadn’t. The character has a cliched and weak storyline, and there could have been better ways to use him as opposed to as the dull and boring sidekick of sorts to Elvis. Pettyfer is a pretty mediocre actor, and the saddest part of his career is that his mediocrity caught up with him and he fizzled out without ever becoming memorable. He was a terrible choice for this film, and I am pretty sure many people can agree that his parts of the film were the weakest, and if they film focused more on the titular duo, it would have been a lot stronger. Pettyfer needs to try something new, because maybe there is still hope. I just don’t appreciate so much of such a quirky film like Elvis & Nixon was weighed down by Pettyfer’s moping and dull performance. Colin Hanks and Evan Peters, however, were far more effective supporting characters and fit in with the quirky atmosphere of Elvis & Nixon.
Elvis & Nixon is such an fun film. It isn’t serious, and I don’t expect it to top many lists of the best films of the year, but I do think it is a wonderfully peculiar film that takes a hilarious look at an iconic moment in history and presents its titular subject matters with a film that shows them in a far more humorous light than previous attempts to representing them on film. Elvis & Nixon is not a serious film, and I expect it won’t be seen very widely, but it is the perfect film to stumble upon late at night on television, because the premise and the cast is so outlandish, you’ll probably think you’re hallucinating – and I am still not quite sure this film really does exist. But these are the moments that make cinema magical I suppose.