Elvis and Nixon
The most requested photo in the National Archives is that of President Nixon and Elvis Presley shaking hands on 21st December 1970, which was followed by 40 minutes together in the Oval Office. Their conversation remains a mystery. Hanala Sagal, Joey Sagal, and Cary Elwes’s script for Elvis and Nixon, directed by Liza Johnson, imagines what transpired.
In a funk, Elvis takes a gun to his multiple TVs before recruiting his posse (Alex Pettyfer and Johnny Knoxville) and heading for Washington DC to deliver a letter to some astounded White House guards, requesting to see the President. At first refusing the meeting despite his aides’ urgings – “He could really help you with the youth vote” – Nixon acquiesces after they court his daughter: “The leader of the free world is taking orders from a 22 year old college girl!”
Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey are on top of their game and hilarious as Elvis Presley and President Nixon. Two of the best actors around, Shannon and Spacey have great chemistry on screen and the result is highly entertaining. Spacey exaggerates the Nixon impersonation at points, but the characterisation serves the movie’s humour, as does Shannon’s junk-food-loving rocker Elvis. The latter doesn’t look or sound like the real Elvis Presley, but his style and talent pull off the role regardless.
Of the two characters, Nixon is a bit of a caricature, but Elvis has far more dimension, and the script yields some touching insights into Presley’s psyche. Elvis feels he has few friends, that to people “I become an object, no different from a bottle of Coke…they never see me, that boy from Memphis, Tennessee…” About his stillborn twin: “Sometimes I think God felt guilty and gave me the luck meant for two.” With a black belt in karate and a gun obsession, he carries multiple weapons – apparently legal – on his person at all times, to the secret service’s dismay.
The encounter itself is perfect: Nixon’s usual conservative rigidity dissolves in Elvis’ presence, despite Presley ignoring all protocol, and the interaction between the two is priceless. Elvis wants to be a “federal agent at large” and go undercover as “I believe the drug culture is ruining our youth”.
Ending with a note, “Elvis never went undercover. Or did he?”, Elvis and Nixon is successful as a charmingly humorous interpretation of the surreal meeting of two icons who find common ground.
Elvis and Nixon is released nationwide on 24th June 2016.
Watch the trailer for Elvis and Nixon here: