Elvis and Nixon review: If you’ve ever wanted to see The King eat Tricky Dicky’s M&Ms, this film is for you
Film review: Elvis and Nixon

Matthew Turner casts his critical eye over based-on-a-true-story comedy drama Elvis & Nixon, starring Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey

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The dramatised story behind the bizarre real-life meeting between Elvis Presley and US president Richard Nixon, which took place in 1970

Director: Liza Johnson
Starring: Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville
Genre: Comedy / Drama
Country: USA
Release date: June 24, 2016
Cert: 15
Running time: 86 mins

With Elvis & Nixon, Kevin Spacey officially joins the Nixon Club – a group of actors that have played Tricky Dicky on screen (including Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella) – while co-star Michael Shannon joins the Elvis Club, alongside the likes of Kurt Russell  and Bruce Campbell (who portrayed an ageing vision of the rocker fighting evil forces in a nursing home).

While neither actor bears a particularly strong physical resemblance to their counterpart, their enjoyably spot-on performances are the chief reason to see this engaging, if ultimately rather slight comedy-drama.

Gleeful absurdity

Based on a real-life encounter that took place in 1970, the film begins with Elvis (Shannon) firing a gun at one of his many TV sets, in frustration at scenes of student protest.

Impulsively, he decides to pay a visit to President Nixon (Spacey), so he scrawls him a four page letter and drops it off at the White House, accompanied by his loyal friend Jerry (Alex Pettyfer).

Nixon’s bemused aides (Colin Hanks and Evan Peters) persuade their boss that the meeting might look good to voters, so the President agrees to the encounter, during which Elvis requests that he be made a Federal-Agent-at-large so he can go undercover.

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The title of the movie suggests a degree of parity between the two main characters, but in fact there’s a lot more Elvis than Nixon and the actual meeting doesn’t take place for nearly an hour.

Happily, when the central encounter finally arrives though, it doesn’t disappoint and the script (co-written by cult actor Cary Elwes) gleefully plays up the absurdity of the encounter, with amusing touches such as Elvis receiving strict instructions not to touch Nixon’s candy bowl – and then immediately eating all the President’s M&Ms upon entering the Oval Office.

Interesting contrasts

The performances are a joy to watch, with both actors doing full justice to both Elvis and Nixon, incorporating plenty of familiar mannerisms (Spacey’s exasperated snorts are a delight unto themselves) but stopping short of outright caricature or impersonation.

Shannon is particularly good as Elvis, investing him with both a strangeness and an infectious sense of confidence that seems to take in everyone around him.

Ultimately, the script largely plays their encounter for laughs (there are lots of entertaining mind games at play), but some subtly interesting contrasts emerge in terms of the power wielded by both men and the mutual respect they discover for each other is oddly touching.

Worth seeing?

This is an entertaining comedy-drama enlivened by two terrific central performances, though it’s slightly let down by an overly lengthy pre-amble to the main event.

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