Elvis & Nixon (15.)
Directed by Liza Johnson.
Starring Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Evan Peters and Colin Hanks. 86 mins
The meeting between the King and The Chief, because it happened in 1970 before Tricky Dicky got into taping every event that happened in the White House, has a mythic air to it. 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 is always taken as being 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 a 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.)
One of the film's great strengths is how well it does with the supporting characters: aside from Pettyfer, Hanks and Peters make something memorable of Nixon's aides, the two people who think it might be a good idea for the POTUS to indulge Elvis when he wanders up to the gate of the White House, with a handwritten note requesting to see Nixon, to inquire about becoming a special deputy at large. Spacey is a perfect Nixon, but I think 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 looking. At one point an Elvis impersonator comes up to him to congratulate him on the costume, not recognising him and you can't blame him – he's like 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 persona. The film makes the point a little to bluntly but there is a touching scene where his reflection in the mirror is talking to Schilling about how nobody sees him any more when he walks in the room, they just see their memories of him. By this time, after a decade and a half of making movies and the '68 Comeback Special already a dimming memory, the singer was already firmly encased in the trap of celebrity madness, a state which he had been something of a pioneer. Maybe that's the point of the meeting – it's less a chance to gets some meaning into his existence, more an attempt to pass on his craziness to someone else.