Elvis & Nixon, film review: ‘Kevin Spacey is a perfect Richard Nixon’

PUBLISHED: 15:00 21 June 2016

Michael Shannon (left) stars as Elvis Presley and Kevin Spacey (right) stars as President Richard Nixon in Liza Johnson's ELVIS & NIXON. Picture: Steve Dietl

Michael Shannon (left) stars as Elvis Presley and Kevin Spacey (right) stars as President Richard Nixon in Liza Johnson's ELVIS & NIXON. Picture: Steve Dietl

2016 Bleecker Street

The meeting between the King and The Chief has a mythic air to it – perhaps because it happened in 1970 before Tricky Dicky got into taping every event that happened in the White House,

If it wasn’t for the photo of the pair of them shaking hands, it might have passed into urban legend.

The King Of Rock‘n’Roll volunteering to help wage the war on drugs has always been taken as a deeply significant moment in pop culture history, but nobody’s quite sure what it signified.

This film doesn’t take any great stand, preferring to spin slight, but amusing, entertainment out of it, based on the version told by Elvis’s close friend Jerry Schilling (a very engaging turn by Pettyfer).

The film’s great strength is its performances: Hanks and Peters make something memorable of Nixon’s aides, while Spacey is a perfect Nixon.

I think, though, we have to take issue with Shannon as Elvis.

At one point a character observes that, “he is taller than I thought he’d be,” which he certainly is, but also somewhat thinner and more gaunt.

When an Elvis impersonator doesn’t recognise him and comes up to congratulate him on the costume, you can’t blame him – he’s like a man in a Halloween costume, a Beetlejuice Elvis.

You look at him and think, this ain’t no template for Nicolas Cage’s whole career.

But it works for the characterisation, for he is meant to be a haunted man, a man trapped in his own persona.

Johnson’s movie makes the point a little too bluntly, but there is a touching scene where his reflection in the mirror talks to Schilling about how nobody sees him when he walks in the room any more; they just see their memories of him.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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