In what has been humorously referred to as a docu-comedy, the 2016 film Elvis and Nixon, featuring Michael Shannon as the former and Kevin Spacey as the latter, reached movie theaters, and though it’s a largely forgotten movie, Elvis and Nixon gets much tongue-in-check mileage through its fictionalized account of this true life moment in the annals of pop culture wherein the King of Rock ‘n Roll meets the President of the United States.
Directed by Liza Johnson and with an unlikely rscreenplay by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal, and Cary Elwes, this inventive recounting of the meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon happened on the December 21, 1970. Elvis was concerned with the drug culture, the so-called hippie movement, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and the Black Panther Party. With the (wrong) direction that American culture seemed to be taking, Elvis met Nixon hoping to be deputized as a federal-agent-at-large to help stem the use of drugs among the upcoming generation of American citizens. Ironically Elvis’s dependence on prescription drugs suffers no scrutiny in this telling of the story.
Though Nixon is known for notoriously and surreptitiously tape recording his White House conversations, there are no recordings of his private interchanges with Elvis This leaves much room for the filmmakers to imaginatively create what their talk may have been about and what might have been said. There’s an amusing amount of liberty taken in portraying Elvis downing the president’s Dr. Pepper soda and gobbling his M&M candies.
In conveying the advantages to the nation by having himself appointed as an undercover drug enforcement agent, Elvis emphasizes that he had starred in 31 films, which in his own estimation made him an expert in costuming and disguise. Moreover, Elvis underscores his two- year service in the U.S. Army (after being drafted in 1958).
Both Michael Shannon as Elvis and Kevin Spacey as Nixon are superb in their over-the-top embodiments of these two over-the-top personalities. Though Shannon looks more like an Elvis impersonator than does the fabulous Austin Butler as Elvis in Baz Lurhrman’s latest biographical motion picture Elvis, Shannon does ably carry the story. Spacey, however, captures Nixon’s idiosyncrasies — the hunched shoulders, hand contortions and vocal peculiarities — perfectly.
Whether an exact replica of the interchange between Elvis and Nixon is a verbatim reflection of the meeting is of little importance. What the scripted dialogue does in this 86-minute movie is explore the possibilities inherent in the exchange between the two men. The facts are that Elvis wanted a meeting with Nixon. Nixon wanted an autograph from Elvis to give to his daughter Julie. Elvis wanted a badge of authority from Nixon. They both wanted a photograph of their meeting. Each of them got what they wanted. It’s great fun watching the maneuvers made by each man to get what they desired from one another.
What: Elvis and Nixon
Where: Currently streaming on Amazon Prime