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Elvis and Nixon - DVD Review

Elvis & Nixon

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

IN December 1970, the king of rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley, met American President Richard Nixon in The White House. The meeting was arranged at the request of Presley, who wanted to lobby the President personally for the right to become an FBI agent at large, so that he could counter the threat posed by Communism by going undercover.

There are no transcripts of the meeting; just a photo of the two men shaking hands. Liza Johnson’s new film imagines what did occur. But rather than adopt a particularly discerning approach, the comedy-drama that ensues errs towards the light-hearted. The result, while consistently engaging, does actually leave you wanting a little more.

Kevin Spacey does, however, excel as Nixon. He’s first introduced, hunched over in typically Nixon-esque pose, barking an irritated question: “Who the fuck set this up?” It’s a brilliantly delivered line that sets the tone for the cartoonish events that follow.

For a short time afterwards, we then follow Michael Shannon’s Elvis as he and his right-hand man (Alex Pettyfer) attempt to orchestrate the meeting with the star-struck help of Colin Hanks’s Egil ‘Bud’ Krogh (who would later become a key player in the Watergate scandal).

At first, their efforts seem destined to fail as Nixon quite simply isn’t interested. But fate, or political manoeuvring, does eventually bring them together.

Yet as enjoyably daft as the ensuing discussion often is, involving breaks in protocol over Nixon’s M&Ms or impromptu Kung-Fu lessons, Johnson’s film would also have benefited from a little more probing into the character of both iconic men. A real-life memo from Krogh suggests this took place but there is little evidence of it here, which increasingly feels like a missed opportunity, especially as prior to the meeting, Shannon does a good job of playing Elvis as a tormented soul: a man equally at odds with his own celebrity as he is with the state of America.

Hence, while Shannon may lack the good looks of Presley in his prime, he gestures well, mumbles well and imbues his Presley with a great deal of thought. He’s enigmatic more than charismatic.

Spacey, meanwhile, is clearly having a blast as Nixon, both credible physically and in mannerism and tone. The insights he’s afforded into the actual man are a little more fleeting but always engaging. And his performance is far more layered than mere caricature, hinting at both the intelligence and insecurity behind the man.

There’s engaging support, too, from the likes of Hanks, Tate Donovan and Tracy Letts, although a sub-plot involving Pettyfer’s love interest back home feels like unnecessary padding and time away from the main event.

Hence, as endearing as Johnson’s film remains, there’s also no escaping its shortcomings. It engages but only superficially. But it remains worth seeing if you’ve even a fleeting interest in either of these historical titans.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 86mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: October 31, 2016