Front Row at the Movies
“Elvis & Nixon”
Is Unbelievably True
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
You’ve seen the photograph: Elvis Presley with flowing hair, cape-like jacket, and belt buckle befitting a WWE champion, is shaking hands with a slightly balding, stiff in suit and tie, none other than President Richard M. Nixon.
More copies of this photo are requested from the National Archives than any other image, even the Bill of Rights or the Constitution of the United States.
Fancifully titled “The President & the King,” the picture memorialized a face-to-face meeting between Elvis and Nixon on December 21, 1970. The impromptu meeting was initiated by Elvis, who showed up at the White House to make a crazed request that the President appoint him as a “Federal Agent-at-Large” with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
He’d written a rambling six-page letter to Nixon saying he could use his position to help because “the drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers etc. do not consider me as their enemy.”
Considering Elvis died of a drug overdose seven years later underscores that statement.
This surreal occurrence was the subject of an all-but-overlooked 1997 film called “Elvis Meets Nixon.” You wouldn’t recognize the names of the stars.
So director Lisa Johnson tried a new version with big-name stars. This one titled “Elvis & Nixon” features Michael Shannon as the slightly wacko singer and Kevin Spacey as the discombobulated president. Yes, it’s a comedy.
Michael Shannon is not as smoothly handsome as the real Elvis, but he’s been around in such films as “99 Homes” and “Batman v Superman.” He’s done good work in TV’s “Boardwalk Empire” and got an Oscar nod for “Revolutionary Road.” Besides, Lisa Johnson was comfortable working with Shannon, for he’d starred in her earlier film “Return.”
Kevin Spacey is a two-time Academy Award winner (“The Usual Suspects” and “American Beauty”) and has appeared in such hit movies as “L.A. Confidential” and “Casino Jack”). What’s more, he’s used to playing corrupt US presidents, starring in TV’s “House of Cards.”
The director also peopled “Elvis & Nixon” with other big-enough-name actors in the roles of Elvis’s pals Jerry (Alex Pettyfer) and Sonny (Johnny Knoxville), and Nixon’s staffers H.R. Haldeman (Tate Donovan), Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters), and Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks). Singer Sky Ferreira plays Jerry’s girlfriend and Geraldine Singer has a small part as Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods.
“Elvis & Nixon” is currently showing at Tropic Cinema. The movie’s a lot of fun, with Spacey hamming it up as Tricky Dick. And the story is unbelievably true.