This bizarre story is a hidden gem in American history. It is hilarious, unbelievable and hugely entertaining
The King of Rock ‘n Roll and the President of the United States seem like an unlikely pair, but this odd couple actually had a real meeting in the Oval Office in December 1970. Liza Johnson’s Elvis and Nixon is the charming and hilarious story of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon’s brief encounter when Elvis asked to be sworn in as an undercover agent in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. It’s difficult to believe that this meeting, and Elvis’ insistence on a badge for his desired position, actually happened. Nevertheless its basis upon real events just makes the film all the more hilarious.
Stylistically, this film finds the perfect balance between creativity and accuracy. Set mostly in Washington DC, the cinematography and establishing shots of the location are alluring and engaging. The grainy film stock helps to create a sense of authenticity, but also creates nostalgia for a time of music and cinema that is fondly remembered. In the same way, the soundtrack, which includes songs such as ‘Hold on I’m Coming’ by Sam and Dave, fully immerses the audience in the immediate post 60s era of some of the most innovative and loved music ever created. Even The Beatles gets a mention, yet Elvis sees them more as a force for anti-American spirit than a talented musical act.
The film’s cast alone suggests a promising watch, and the leading actors certainly succeed in playing two of the most famous men in history. Elvis is played by Michael Shannon, who is perhaps at first glance an unusual choice, but he could not be more suited to the role. Although at first it’s difficult to ignore that other than his costume, Shannon really does not share any features with Elvis, this becomes completely irrelevant due to the quality of his performance. Tactfully, Shannon did not allow his depiction of Elvis to become caricature, and instead he embodies the spirit and charm of the man himself with passion and charisma.
As well as this, Kevin Spacey’s casting as Nixon could not have been a better choice. Although in many ways this was a predictable move following Spacey’s success in the Netflix series House of Cards, where he plays President Frank Underwood, he succeeds in portraying Nixon in a way that is different to his other portrayal. It is believed that his House of Cards character was inspired by Nixon, yet there is a distinct difference between his two roles. He perfects Nixon’s physical demeanour as well as his expressions and voice. Perhaps audiences would be more impressed with his performance had we not already been so familiar with his presidential role as Frank Underwood. Nevertheless, Spacey rose to the task and successfully portrayed one of America’s most notorious presidents.
Both Spacey and Shannon brought a great level of humour to their roles, as did the smaller roles such as Elvis’ “head of PR”, Jerry, played by Alex Pettyfer and Nixon’s assistant Krogh played by Colin Hanks. Elvis and Nixon only lasts a short 86 minutes, but it is just enough time for the audience to get a glimpse into this weird and wonderful meeting, which we can hardly believe actually happened. The photograph of Elvis and Nixon’s brief meeting is, understandably, the most requested photograph from the National Archives in history.
Elvis and Nixon, directed by Liza Johnson, is distributed by Entertainment One, certificate 15, and is released in the UK on 24th June.