Review: ‘Elvis & Nixon’ Combines History and Culture with Subtle Humor

Maddie Crichton ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

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Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey in Elvis & Nixon. Photo Credit: Amazon Studios. 

The most requested photograph in the National Archives shows the meeting of two American figures: Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon. But why were the King of Rock n’ Roll and the President of the United States meeting together, and what happened before that iconic picture was taken? Elvis & Nixon tells the simply put, surprisingly humorous answer.

Michael Shannon plays the music legend. He may not be the obvious imaginable candidate for the Elvis, but he does a great job bringing the realities of the end of Elvis’s career to life. In 1970, the year the movie is set, Elvis was thirty five years old and past the peak of his spotlight. He has just finished his first run in Las Vegas, which was far from a popular career choice at the time. At this point, Elvis had been in the music business for a long time, and Shannon plays into this. He carries a certain sadness fans all know Elvis had, and pairs it with a feeling of tiredness. He dawns on the famous Elvis charm when he needs to, but remains fairly jaded in almost every situation, unimpressed by his fame, friends, and even seeing the White House.

His fame is not underplayed, however. Whenever Elvis enters a room, particularly one filled with women of any age, screaming and panicking ensues on an incomparable level. He walks through, unfazed by the near hysteria around him. This film reminds viewers, if Elvis is such a big deal now, imagine what it was like back then when he was still alive and touring. It is almost hard to think of a modern-day Elvis equivalent, someone whose career will have a lasting impact on the industry and whose fan base stretches across all generations.

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Kevin Spacey in Elvis & Nixon. Photo Credit: Amazon Studios.

The other side of the story belongs to Kevin Spacey, who plays President Nixon, perhaps the most notoriously criminal president in the nation’s history. Spacey does the sleazy politician well, which comes as no surprise after seeing him as the wicked Frank Underwood on House of Cards.

Spacey brings a coldness to Nixon. He is closed off and sharp to his staff, and has a short patience with the King of Rock before he even meets him. But Spacey adds a subtle wit to this frigid leader in a way only Spacey is capable of doing. He selects moments where he goes from simply portraying Nixon, to quietly parodying him. His borderline outrageous remarks and frighteningly stern looks are not necessarily the kind of funny that will leave viewers laughing out loud, but will impress them none the less.

The strength of this movie lies in the build up. The film switches between seeing the day through Elvis’s shoes, though they are not blue suede, and then the President’s. The anticipation of the moment when the two finally meet is discrete but still exciting, as is the moment itself. But that moment also lacks something. There is no single blowout or climax that ties it together. Just like the rest of the movie, this scene is very muted, despite viewers waiting for something bigger to happen.

But its quiet nature makes it a thought provoking movie and brings an interesting perspective to this little known historical and cultural story.

Overall Grade: B

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