Wednesday, August 31, 2016
REVIEW: ELVIS AND NIXON
ELVIS AND NIXON worked like a charm on me. It's a breezy way to spend an hour and twenty-five minutes but finds the time to inject plenty of heart into these characters that are larger than life simply by existing. The film follows Elvis Presely from a fateful night at his Graceland home to the front lawn of the white house attempting to hand deliver a letter to President Nixon that is a "matter of national security." You see, Elvis is fed-up with the way society is going and he firmly believes that he can help change the fabric of America if he can go undercover as a Federal Agent-At-Large and infiltrate dangerous groups like The Commies, The Black Panthers, and The Rolling Stones.
More than once during ELVIS AND NIXON I found myself reminded of Steve Martin's play PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE wherein Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein meet at a small tavern to discuss the nature of genius. Late in the play they are met by a time traveling Elvis who gives them a third perspective on how malleable the definition of genius can be. ELVIS AND NIXON replaces genius with the idea of life in the public eye. It can be easy to write Elvis off as a kitschy relic of a bygone era and nearly everyone writes Nixon off as a power hungry politician who allowed his place of power to corrupt him to his core, but ELVIS AND NIXON is more even handed about that. It meets these men where they are, on the precipice of their respective demises. Elvis was still riding high on the good will of the '68 Comeback Special and Nixon's popularity was waning, but he had set in motion the events that would eventually end the Vietnam War.
I can't wait for ELVIS AND NIXON to be adapted for the stage. Both parts are full of meaty bits for an actor to chew on. And boy does this movie take full advantage of that. Michael Shannon delivers the best on-screen depiction of Elvis I have ever seen (though, I do love Jack White's karate-obsessed portrayal of The King from Walk Hard), and delivers what might be my favorite Michael Shannon performance. Similarly, Kevin Spacey embodies Nixon like nobody else I have seen. Both actors are game for this project and it oozes off of every frame. The two are separated for a long stretch of the movie and while I was mostly fine with spending time with the charming Presely, I would have loved an equal amount of time spent with Tricky Dick as well.
It's hard for me to say that ELVIS AND NIXON is among the best films of the year and I can't tell you why. It's an efficient comedy-drama featuring terrific central performances and crackling dialogue directed with a verve that shows the gaudiness of the 1970's without being mean or ironic. It just feels like there's one or two missing pieces keeping it from greatness. I think it may be just a hair too short and could have been fleshed out with more scenes featuring just Nixon. Either way, ELVIS AND NIXON is an easy and earnest watch worth getting swept up in.