As a film fan, I love reading about the making of movies. Some of the most fun you can do is seeing what ideas have been dropped in pre-production then wondering how that film would have been with the change. That is particularly fun for biopics, as you’re not just learning about a film but a real person too. Best is when you discover they cut a story line not because it was dull, but because it was so crazy people will think the film-makers just made it up. Trying to astound people with the fact it simply exists is Elvis & Nixon, because yes those two people actually met.
Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon, Man of Steel) hates the new counter-culture ways of rock and roll and how it encourages drug use. In order to stop this, he wants to become an undercover agent but to do this, he must meet the president of the United States, Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey, American Beauty).
So this film comes from a real life picture of Elvis and Nixon meeting in the Oval Office in what is now the most requested image from the National Archive. And quite rightly too, it’s utterly bizarre to see the man who popularized rock and roll shaking hands with one of the most corrupt Western leaders of all time. It’s the sort of thing that’d get millions of retweets now. Not that much is known about the meeting, it takes place before Nixon started to record everything, but from what I could gleam, it’s pretty realistic. Elvis seriously wanted a NARC badge, basically to add to his collection of sheriff badges he had got from various small towns in the US. And Nixon really agreed to meet him and really gave him the badge, which brings his tenure as President even more questionable. It’s astounding that this is real.
And the film approaches this in the right way, not going full-out as comedy, but never taking it too seriously. I mean, could you imagine trying to take this seriously? It means there is a real heart to this film, which is actually more about the relationship between Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer, I Am Number Four) and Elvis, but also some real life out load moments. The best of them being when Elvis enters the NARC HQ in typical fashion and is adored by the female receptionists and then leaves in a grump because he was refused to his badge, leading the women to verbally beat on the head of NARC.
Of course, the whole film is building up to the scene where Elvis and Nixon meet, and that sort of lets down the rest of the film. It’s like having the mother of all chocolate cakes as your dessert, one with melting chocolate and even some ice cream on the side. And if the film can build up to that with a superb roast dinner, with the pork just done so and the potatoes just that right sort of crispy, that’s perfectly fine. However the film makes us eat a microwave Shepherd’s Pie before hand, making that chocolate cake even more distracting.
The whole build up the end of the film, all seventy minutes of it, is essentially people meeting in rooms trying to get it sorted. Sometimes it looks on, sometimes it doesn’t but there’s no tension because you wouldn’t be watching it if Elvis and Nixon didn’t meet at the end. That would be like snatching the chocolate cake away and replace it with a nutritious bowl on cous cous, you’d set fire to things. And unfortunately, these meetings aren’t very interesting. Because the tension isn’t there, there’s little point. You’re just trying to get through it until the real good stuff happens.
Thankfully though, when we get to the conclusion and Nixon and Elvis meet, it’s everything you could have ever hoped for. Both Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey morph into their characters, Spacey should be able to play corrupt presidents in his sleep by now, and it’s two sheer forces of personality clashing with each other, and it’s a delight to watch. Seeing Elvis disobey all the rules set upon him by Nixon aides and the Nixon simply letting it go because it’s Elvis god damned Presley is just such a weird thing to see, yet it seems so right.
I can’t really recommend you to see Elvis & Nixon because the majority of the film is a bit dull and only livened up by some very good performances and some pretty funny moments. But yet that final scene is so good, so entertaining and just a bizarre sight to see on-screen, it’s almost worth it. Because let’s face it, if you could have the best chocolate cake in the world tonight, you’d eat all the shepherd’s pie put in front of you.