Elvis & Nixon, rated R
On December 21, 1970 Elvis Presley (played by Michael Shannon) and accompanied by best friend Jerry Schilling (played by Alex Pettyfer) show up unexpectedly at the gates of the White House. On a plane from California to Washington, D.C., Presley had scrawled out a handwritten note to President Nixon, who is played here by Kevin Spacey. The reason? Elvis was upset with the way the country was going (drugs, communists, etc.) and he felt that he could make a difference. His request? He wanted to meet with Nixon that day and receive a badge to be a federal agent at large so he could help combat the drug culture and the “hippie elements” ruining the country, even going undercover to serve his country.
Much of the 86 minute film shows how Schilling, Sonny West, played by Johnny Knoxville, and Nixon’s staffers try to arrange the meeting. Nixon’s staffers, led by Egil Krogh played by Colin Hanks, and Dwight Chapin played by Evan Peters, see the advantage of Nixon meeting and being photographed with Presley because he is clearly out of touch with the youth of America. Nixon initially says “no” to the meeting, but when he finds out that his 22 year-old daughter is a big fan of Presley’s he agrees to it, in hopes of getting an autograph for her.
What exactly did the two men discuss? Even though Nixon was known to tape conversations, he didn’t start until two months after the events that take place in this film, so no transcript of Nixon and Presley’s meeting exists, only a memo describing it. So I’m not sure how much of this film directed by Liza Johnson and written by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes is fact or dramatization.
The actual meeting did take place hours after Presley and Schilling showed up at the gates of the White House. It resulted in an Oval Office photo of Nixon and Presley that the National Archives says is its most requested image.
Oscar nominee Shannon really doesn’t look much like Elvis Presley, though Spacey did look a lot more like Nixon. The movie portrays Presley as someone who loves his guns and his country, and is appalled by much of the counterculture. He tells Schilling that people don’t know the real Elvis, to them he’s just a thing that reminds them of something that happened to them in the past (first kiss, breakup, etc.). In another scene he talks about his twin brother dying minutes before he was born and suggests that his success was perhaps because God felt guilty for taking his brother and so gave Elvis the luck of two people.
Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey is effective as Nixon. He is shown displaying some of his own insecurities (about his appearance, for example). Unfortunately, the actual meeting between Nixon and Presley takes up only a very short part of the film. The interaction between Spacey and Shannon, as the two try to control the conversation in the Oval Office, was certainly the best part of the film.
There is so little content here (not enough to make a full-length film), that the filmmakers add a subplot that you won’t care about concerning the tension Schilling feels about his friendship with Presley versus being with his own fiancée back in California.
Jerry Schilling turned down seven scripts until he found one suitable for the movie “Elvis & Nixon.” He’s an executive producer on the movie, but as for the finished film, Schilling said, “Is it the movie I would have set out to make? No. Is it a well-acted, well-done movie? Yes. The movie is based on facts. The fact that we went to Washington. That we got to the White House. The fact that he got the badge. This movie, as the director would say, is not a History Channel documentary. This is more of a docu-comedy.”
The film has received positive ratings from fans and critics who found it to be funny. Unfortunately, we found the film to be slow and boring.
The film includes some good music from the period (Blood Sweat and Tears, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Otis Redding), but none of Elvis’ music, leading to the assumption that the filmmakers could not get the rights to the use of his music.
The film is rated “R” for adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names, mostly from Nixon.