Elvis & Nixon

Year: 2016
Studio: Amazon Studios
Director: Lisa Johnson
Writer: Joey Sagal/Hanala Sagal/Cary Elwes
Cast: Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Colin Hanks, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Evan Peters

You couldn't get four more different actors than Frank Langella, Anthony Hopkins, John Cusack and Kevin Spacey, so it's quite a surprise to realise they've all not only played Richard Nixon, but played him effectively – finding some quirk of his distinctive manner, voice or stance to play with.

Spacey seems to have had the most fun doing it in this true (ish) story. It's trueish because we know Elvis & Nixon met and spent time together. The inspiring incident behind Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes' script is the famous picture of the pair shaking hands, which the movie informs us is the most requested image ever from the US National Archives.

Director Liza Johnson's film imagines what led up to and occurred in that meeting. The King (Michael Shannon) has an edge of darkness helped in no small part by Shannon himself – increasingly erratic and given to whatever whim occurs to him.

His latest is a crusade against the moral degradation befalling America's youth because of drugs and the hippie ethos, which he thinks is going to erode the moral character of the country just like the conservatives in the White House do.

His solution? Go to the White House and ask Nixon to make him an undercover special forces agent so he can fight the good fight against enemies domestic and foreign, simply showing up at the gates in Washington DC and asking to meet Nixon.

He has his friend Jerry (Alex Pettyfer) from LA in tow, who acts as the proxy audience witnessing a man possessed by a mania that's so solid his hare-brained plan might just work.

After being initially rebuffed by Nixon despite the support of aides Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Evan Peters (Chapin) – who think it could be great for the youth vote – Elvis tries again by marching straight into the FBI, charming his way into getting a meeting with the bemused local agent in charge and asking point blank for a badge.

Meanwhile, Nixon's daughter Julie gets wind of her idol visiting the White House and makes her grumbling Dad promise to meet and get an autograph. Thus begins a two hander (mostly a one hander, with Elvis both leading and hijacking the conversation) as he tries to convince Nixon America is in trouble and he (Elvis) can help.

The two men spent an hour together in real life and nobody knows what transpired – it was before the era when the increasingly paranoid Nixon took to recording everything that went on in the Oval Office.

But Elvis & Nixon imagines Nixon initially taken aback, then gradually coming around to what this mad, bejewelled rock star is selling. Did Elvis ever get a special forces badge and become an undercover agent? As the supertext at the end of the film cheekily asks, how do we know?

The entire film is similarly cheeky, a pleasant and funny film that spins a little dream about one of history's most unlikely meetings and wrangling well-designed period detail to do it in.

It's also far from the first time you've seen Colin Hanks on screen, but at nearly forty years of age he's really grown into his age and has never looked more like his famous dad Tom.

© 2011-2022 Filmism.net. Site design and programming by psipublishinganddesign.com | adambraimbridge.com | humaan.com.au