Liza Johnson’s Elvis and Nixon starring Michael Shannon (as Elvis) and Kevin Spacey (as Nixon), promises the untold true story behind the 1970 meeting between Elvis Presley and American President Richard Nixon. Apparently, the picture of this historical moment is the most requested photograph from the U.S National Archive.
Hollywood’s fascination for the Nixon character and his administration is particular. Just think of Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) or Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon (2008), besides countless others referring to the dismissed president.
A comedy-drama, Johnson’s film is basically a crowd-pleaser and an easy attempt to cash in. Nothing less, nothing more. A (partially) fun light film on a peculiar anecdote that the screenwriters tried to squeeze into a feature. It simply doesn’t have the full content needed and the first part is spent on subplots and Shearmur funky music giving “its” best (note that he is no Quincy Jones) to make us forget we are actually watching the boring parts.
But it gets a bit better, not a lot but still. The problem is the medium of Cinema is about make believe and we can’t seriously think it could have happened anywhere like this. The major mistake of the filmmakers lies in pre-production when they chose to shoot a comedy with the material. The real meeting being such a surrealistic affair a closer account of a real time transcript would have been the way to do it properly. It would have been way funnier and appropriate since the meeting made no sense in the first place. They simply missed the boat.
And What is it these days with reconstitutions? The make-up and hair look fake, the production looks like plastic, like a bad cartoon. Most of the biographies of musician spend too much time on the Drug problems of their subjects but here, on the contrary, you are under the assumption the King never took drugs and this cleanliness, obviously to get a PG rating, adds to the skepticism.
As if it wasn’t enough, the uneven acting is killing it. Michael Shannon is simply not good in this, with a performance stripped of any charisma. Kevin spacey does a good job, nothing to forget Philip Baker Hall as Nixon in Robert Altman’s Secret Honor (1983), but he is good.
A hybrid that fails to convince in every department Elvis and Nixon is a minor film, easily forgotten.