film reel image

film reel image

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Elvis & Nixon 2016 * * * 1/2 Stars

Elvis & NixonDirector: Liza Johnson
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Michael Shannon, Alex Pettyfer

There is only one word I can use to describe 2016's Elvis & Nixon: Fascinating. I remember as a kid, seeing a picture of two exceedingly prominent people and wondering how the heck "Tricky Dicky" and "the King" found a way to get together. Now I sort of have an idea. That is, if what took place is of the non-fiction variety.

With a grainy yet sunny look, background tunes by Otis Redding plus CCR, and period detail of the highest order, "&" is small-scale but it's so far one of the best films of this year. It is not in any way, a serious drama or even a pastiche. No Elvis & Nixon is played as a straight comedy with Elvis Presley as an eccentric goofball and Richard Milhous Nixon as a guy who's hard on the outside and soft on the inside. The humor in "&" is sort of dry, sort of coaxing, and all the while deadpanned. And by the time the 37th U.S. President and Tennessee's badass Rock n Roller meet (within the flick's final half hour), you're slapped with a slight sense of delirium. You as an audience member, occasionally laugh and are always smiling. I mean, at least I was.

Taking place about four years before I was born, Elvis & Nixon harks back to December 21st, 1970. According to the proceedings, Elvis may have been a singing icon but he sure wasn't as important as California's big man in the Oval Office. Presley traveled to Washington, D.C., unannounced and with an entourage of like two people. He had to try his butt off to get to see Nixon. With his funky glasses, his spreadeagle capes, and his silvery collection of firearms in tote, the man who loves peanut butter and banana sandwiches didn't have anything on debriefing methods or the almighty Secret Service. Anyway, the story goes like this: Elvis Aaron Presley (played by Michael Shannon) is bored. The film begins with him lounging at his Memphis estate, watching the news (on four to five screens) and longing to be a celebrity ambassador to the U.S's anti-drug campaign. At four in the morning, he decides to board a plane to Los Angeles. There, he picks up his good friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) and the two fly to our nation's capital. Presley's agenda: Go to the White House, drop off a letter to President Richard Nixon (played by Kevin Spacey), and hopefully get a chance meeting of five minutes. Elvis happily wants Nixon to swear him in as an undercover agent via the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Said meeting between the most famous people in America is a hoot (spoiler). While noshing on M&M's, drinking Dr. Pepper, and taking a lot more time than expected, Elvis eventually gives Richard a WWII pistol and shows him a few karate moves (ha-ha). The whole sequence is pretty surreal and uncanny.

In terms of the performances, well Elvis & Nixon has three that are near-perfect. Michael Shannon may not look or even talk like Tupelo's favorite son. However, he gets a pass for being a great actor anyway. Plus, he delivers his lines in a manner that just makes him flat-out likable. As for Kevin Spacey, well he obviously doesn't resemble the resigning Republican with the crinkly nose. No matter. The camera turns one way, the lighting is just right, and "Verbal" Kint absolutely absolves himself in this role. The voice, the mannerisms, the head tilted down. It's all perfect. Finally, there's Alex Pettyfer. Ever since he starred in Magic Mike, I figured the dude would go on to be a big movie star. I haven't seen him in anything lately but here, he does excellent supporting work as Presley's reserved aide (the real-life Schilling).

In conclusion, the iconic photograph of Nixon and Presley is considered one of the most indelible images in the history of American culture. It's mind-boggling that it took forty-six years to finally bring the subject to the silver screen. Director Liza Johnson (2011's Return) and three screenwriters fashion something whimsical, something special, and something kind of offbeat with "&". Nothing in frame seems to be taken too seriously. And watching the interaction between the title characters along with their journey to meet one another, is mildly exhilarating in a time capsule sort of way. You feel like you're being placed in the early 70's while just observing an ordinary, Monday afternoon. Now another motion picture about the lava lamp decade is about to hit theaters in three weeks (Russell Crowe's latest, The Nice Guys). I sure hope it's as good as Elvis & Nixon. "Thank ya, thank ya very much". Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

No comments:

Post a Comment