Review: Elvis & Nixon – A cinematic peanut butter and banana sandwich

Elvis & NixonMark Twain famously said, “Truth is stranger than fiction,” and that axiom is what makes real life fun to live. Case in point is the time in 1970 when Elvis Presley showed up at The White House wanting to meet President Richard Nixon in hope of becoming an honorary DEA agent-at-large and obtaining the accompanying badge.

The entertaining Elvis & Nixon allows us to see what might have happened behind the Oval Offices doors during the historic meeting of these two “recording stars” proving that when real life turns completely surreal it can be a blast.

For the most part the film plays as a day in the life of “The King,” from Graceland to his mansion in Los Angeles to The White House; and along the way he picks up a couple members of his “Memphis Mafia,” his friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) and his bodyguard Sonny West (Johnny Knoxville.)

We also see the inner workings of the Nixon administration as his staff, Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters – whom you’ll recognize as Quicksilver from the X-Men movies), tries to convince him that meeting Elvis would be a great public relations move.

Of course it all culminates in the epic meeting of two of the most powerful people in the world. No one knows for sure what went down in that office, but in the film the event is portrayed as two arrogant powerhouses finding common ground in that, ultimately, they are both just nerdy and insecure misfits.

If you are a fan of Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood character on House of Cards, then it might It take a couple of minutes to adjust to his portrayal of Nixon, but he does an incredible job of channeling the former President’s idiosyncrasies and makes him a somewhat likeable a-hole.

Elvis & NixonThanks to the writing of Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes (yes, that Cary Elwes from The Princess Bride), this movie has the most human portrayal of Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) that I have seen, providing us a look at the psyche of a man struggling with his fame and fortune – detached from the real world and trying to make sense of it all.

If you are like me and you’ve always figured that the end of the world would happen with Elvis singing “All Shook Up” in the background, then the fact that Michael Shannon has played both Doomsday (Batman v Superman) and Elvis in movies released within a month of each other makes perfect sense. But where Doomsday was mostly CGI, the actor delivers an excellent performance as Presley.

This very good film is backed up by a fantastic soundtrack that, believe it or not, contains no Elvis music whatsoever. Instead we get great classics of the era like “Hold on, I’m Coming” by Sam & Dave, “Hard to Handle” by Otis Redding, and “Push and Pull” by Rufus Thomas.

Elvis & Nixon is a funky look at 1970s Americana and two of its wildest and weirdest characters. The movie does drag a little bit at the beginning, but, like a cinematic peanut butter and banana sandwich, once you get past that first bite it’s fascinating, fun and delicious. Grade: 8/10

Photos © 2016 Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.