Sunday, July 24, 2016

Video review: "Elvis & Nixon"


Forty-six years after it was taken, the iconic photo of Elvis Presley meeting President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office is still the most requested image in the National Archives. Here are two disparate figures who still have a tight hold on the national consciousness, decades separated from their heydays.

“Elvis & Nixon” is a great premise for a movie: What’s the story behind that impromptu meeting? Director Liza Johnson and screenwriters Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes explore the subject with humor and a surprising amount of insight into each man’s troubled soul.

It’s a fictionalized account, but we suspect events could’ve transpired much as they are depicted.

Michael Shannon plays Elvis and Kevin Spacey is Nixon. Both are completely authoritative in their roles, despite never trying to do an impersonation of their character. Shannon, the king of brooding cinematic figures, doesn’t much look or sound like Elvis but suggests a thoughtful wariness behind the gaudy fa├žade.

There’s a great scene where he’s putting on his standard get-up of that era – black coat and pants, gold buckle, shirt open to the navel, high-altitude pompadour, omnipresent sunglasses -- and comments to one of his rare, close friends, Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer), that people only see the “thing” and not the boy from Memphis.

Already the recipient of numerous honorary badges, he undertakes the mission because he craves a federal one. Dismayed at the drugs and unrest he sees on television, he concocts a story of becoming an undercover “agent-at-large” to help save America’s youth. He’s so cut off from the world he doesn’t realize you can’t take firearms on a commercial airplane.

Spacey gets less screen time, but projects an image of a man who never got over his humble roots despite the position he’s attained. At first he doesn’t want to meet Elvis, partly because he’s so handsome; guys like me had to work hard to get a girl’s attention, he grumbles to one of his flunkies.

(To Nixon, everyone is a flunky… or should be.)

Colin Hanks plays Egil Krogh, the president’s right-hand man who pushes the meeting to help with the youth vote; Evan Peters is fellow flunky Dwight Chapin; Johnny Knoxville plays Sonny West, another Elvis hanger-on who’s not above using the boss’ allure to entice feminine company.

I won’t say too much of the meeting, other than it goes exactly as we might expect, and completely not. Nixon is totally flustered by the singer’s self-importance – slurping down the Dr. Pepper and M&Ms reserved for the POTUS – but to his own surprise finds a kindred soul to whom he can relate. Both men are constantly surrounded, yet eternally lonely.

A bit kooky with a serious undertone, “Elvis & Nixon” is a smart and funny take on the little foibles history throws at us.

Bonus features are a mite skimpy, consisting of a commentary track by director Johnson and the real Jerry Schilling, and a featurette, “Crazy But True.”

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