Movie Review: “Elvis & Nixon”


Elvis & Nixon (2016, 86 minutes)

A less likely film meeting between a pair of larger-than-life characters you would be hard-pressed to find. But the real encounter between rock ‘n’ roll icon Elvis Aaron Presley and President Richard Milhous Nixon really did occur in December of 1970. The acorn from which this gnarly oak quickly sprouted came from the seldom explored mind of Presley when he decided enough was enough. This country was going straight to hell, reckoned Elvis, with all these hippies ingesting copious amounts of dangerous drugs. To help clean up this mess, Presley decided to volunteer his services as an undercover narcotics agent for the federal government.

To accomplish this lofty goal, why not go directly to the most powerful man in the world? When this meeting was actually proposed to the president by White House staffer Egil “Bud” Krogh, the president said something to the effect of, “Why the bleep would I want to talk to that guy?!!” Nixon was persuaded it might help him with the youth vote in the upcoming 1972 election. To think that Nixon could ever corral “the youth vote” had to have been suggested by someone who had never spoken often to youth of any stripe.

Against his better judgment, Nixon (played affably with a minimum of “harumph” by Kevin Spacey) is convinced to meet the ’50s rock icon by his younger daughter, Julie Nixon, who does not appear on screen. All she wants is an autographed photo of Elvis. Dolled up in his best Las Vegas ensemble, which includes a solid gold belt, a foot wide in the front and worthy of a World Wrestling Federation champion, Elvis (Michael Shannon) manages to get inside the White House to meet the man at the top. Although Shannon neither looks nor sounds anything like Elvis, his portrait comes straight from the heart.

Who knows how accurately the collision of American cultural titans is portrayed in this picture directed by Liza Johnson? Unlike Watergate yet to come, no smoking-gun tapes exist from the real event. Elvis surprised the president by showing him a few of his favorite karate maneuvers, and made it clear that all he wanted from this meeting was an undercover G-man’s badge to help fight the war on drugs. It’s something he might have acquired with less trouble by searching the backsides of different cereal boxes.

By the end of the affair, Nixon and Elvis have become, dare it be said, pretty tight. It’s a movie that may have you chuckling to yourself as you emerge from the cinema, and who would have ever thought that would happen, particularly if you’re old enough to have lived through the quicksand-like scandal that would soon bring this same president to his knees.

—Jud Cost