Film review: Elvis & Nixon – enjoyable reconstruction of 1970 White House meeting
At the height of his fame, Elvis Presley decided to help the United States in its fight against communism, so he went straight to the top – to President Nixon. This charming film is based on that unlikely but completely true story
This quirky little film about Elvis Presley meeting President Nixon in the White House in 1970 is very understated, and that’s what makes it enjoyable. Based on a true event that’s enshrined in an official White House portrait of Elvis and Nixon – reportedly the most requested photo in the White House archives – the film draws on a memoir by White House aide Egil Krogh, and then imaginatively riffs on the truth to amusing effect.
The story begins with Elvis (Michael Shannon) deciding that hippies are ruining the country with their leftist views and dope smoking, and that he needs to use his incredible fame to save America from the commies. To achieve this, the star – a well-known fan of guns – wants to go undercover with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
For this to happen, he needs one of those shiny FBI badges, and to get that, he thinks it’s best to start at the top – with President Nixon (Kevin Spacey). Elvis delivers a handwritten note to the White House gate, and the president’s aides, seeing an opportunity to win over the “youth vote”, try to set the meeting up.
Bonkers as all this sounds, it’s actually true, and detailed in Peter Guralnick’s impressive three-volume Elvis biography. Most of the fun comes from the meeting itself, in which the President is easily outdone by the King, who naturally assumes that the politician will bow down to him, like his millions of fans.
Shannon essays an unusually introspective take on Elvis; his affectionate performance succeeds even though the actor looks nothing like the singer. Seen after Trump’s election, Elvis’ rants about keeping America great aren’t as funny as they would have been last year, although such similarities don’t ruin the enjoyment. Elvis fans, and those interested in American kitsch, will love Elvis & Nixon.
Elvis & Nixon opens on June 15
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