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Elvis & Nixon (AF)


Stars: Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Sky Ferreira, Tracy Letts

Director: Liza Johnson

Up to now my initial reaction to Elvis has been one of irritation – years ago when I visited his home Graceland Mansion in Memphis I was still a smoker and was seriously shocked when I discovered at the gift shop that it was the only place I had found in in the United States where I had to pay for book matches!

After seeing this reconstruction of the seminal meeting of the “most influential entertainer on the planet” and the 37th President of the United States, nowadays best remembered for having had to resign after Watergate, I have forgiven Elvis (or rather those running Graceland after his death).

Thanks to the combination of clever casting, a witty satirical screenplay (Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes, the latter doubling as one of the producers) and director Liza Johnson’s apt storytelling.

Most notably, the pairing of Michael Shannon, whose portrait of Presley is fun without being overdone or parodied, and Kevin Spacey, who brings Nixon credibly to life without either sending him up or fawning on him, makes an entertaining tale.

The real-life photograph of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon together in the Oval Office at the White House is, we are informed, the most requested photo from the millions housed in the US National Archives.

Understandably, surely – after all the American Presidency tends all too often to be as much Show Business as mere politics and, even before the age of the selfie, who could fail to make the most of being seen together with a show biz icon?

The storyline is relatively simple.

Elvis wants to become an “agent-at-large”.

“I want to get a badge. A federal badge” he tells his entourage and he and his subordinate Alex Pettyfer fly to Washington where stardom trumps (no pun intended!) everything at the White House and Presley gets to pose with the President in the Oval Office after promising Nixon an autographed picture for his 22-yeat-old college student daughter.

The supporting players, among them Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks and Evan Peters, do all that is required of them but ‘Elvis & Nixon” is essentially an attractively supported two-hander with both stars in fine form.

While Shannon’s Elvis may not exactly mirror the real thing, his portraiture is far more credible than most of his subject’s “31 major motion pictures”.

Dr Pepper-drinking Spacey (never underestimate Hollywood’s considerable skill with product lacing in movies) is spot on too as the Beatles-hating president (which, presumably, might go some way to diluting his sins in the eyes of the fans of the Liverpudlian stars who, says the film, were held to be pro-Communists by the Americans).

We have no way, of course, to tell how much of Elvis & Nixon<.em> is true and how much is Hollywood fairy tale.

No matter.

It’s entertaining and amusingly satirical all the way.

Alan Frank

USA 2016. UK Distributor: EntertainmentOne. Colour.
85 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 19 Jun 2016