Two 20th century caricatures cross paths in a film that fails to live up to its brilliant concept.
Like Cowboys & Aliens and- some might say- Batman v Superman, Elvis & Nixon is a film originated in title, with little to offer beyond that initial selling name. The casting of Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey, two individuals with no physical resemblance to The King and Tricky Dick, is a move almost as absurd a the film’s premise. In 1971, Elvis requested an Oval Office meeting with the President; we have photographic evidence of this encounter. Elvis & Nixon imagines this meeting and the hours preceding it, as Elvis aims to obtain an FBI badge from Nixon for the purposes of going undercover as a “federal agent at large” to combat communism and drug culture.
To call this film theatrical would be a gross insult to even the most mediocre of theatrical productions. What could have been a genuinely funny satire on two of the most ridiculous characters in American history is instead a colourless and uninspired dramatisation of an utterly implausible scenario that- without any real comedic flavour- is impossible not to roll one’s eyes at. Shannon, in a truly terrible wig, makes no attempt to emulate any of Presley’s most distinctive physical or vocal elements, and the Rock n Roll icon is merely represented as a delusional and extremely right-wing man-child. Spacey tries his best Nixon, but even an actor of his talent can’t make this charicature work in such a cartoonish (but not in a fun way) environment.
Neither insightful (though, with declarations of inner turmoil and low self-esteem from both titular figures, it sure tries to be) nor fun, this is a largely fabricated story that wasn’t really worth fabricating. Perfect for a film about Nixon, so.