Elvis & Nixon: Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey bring history to life

Michael Shannon (left) stars as Elvis Presley and Kevin Spacey (right) stars as President Richard Nixon in Liza Johnson’s ELVIS & NIXON, a Bleecker Street release. Credit: Steve Dietl / Bleecker Street

Elvis & Nixon tells the story behind the most requested photo of all time at the National Archives: the White House meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon.

Directed by Liza Johnson from a screenplay written by Joey Sagal & Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes, Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey star in the title roles. Spacey is unlike his House of Cards persona while portraying Nixon. The duo head up a cast that includes Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Sky Ferreira, Tracy Letts, Tate Donovan, and Ashley Benson.

The story goes that Elvis went to the White House in December 1970 in order to try and get President Nixon to give him a badge and name him as a federal agent-at-large. Together with longtime friend Jerry Schilling (Pettyfer), Elvis shows up at the Northwest Gate and tries to convidence the guards to deliver his hand-written letter to the president. It takes some effort but not even the King can perform his magic just like that.

It’s up to both Nixon staffers Bud Krogh (Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Peters) to convince the big guy to meet with Elvis during an election year but Nixon’s not buying it. He doesn’t want his nap hour disturbed.

Schilling and friend Sonny (Knoxville) meet up with the Nixon aides to work on a plan to get the meeting to happen. Ultimately, it falls to Julie Nixon to get things going with her request for an autograph.

There’s a lot of humor in the protocols instructed before the meeting takes place. Elvis ignores every bit of it but that’s all a moot point as the duo start to bond over how much the dislike the counterculture.

Whether the meeting took place as depicted, I don’t know. What shows up on screen does make for plenty of laughs throughout the film as Elvis shows up at other federal agencies with the hope of obtaining a federal badge. Apparently, he’s a big fan of getting badges from law enforcement. There’s also the moment while waiting in the airport where he’s approached by some Elvis impersonators.

Because Elvis wishes to go undercover, nobody can know that the meeting ever took place. The 1970s were clearly a different time. While politicians regularly raise money in Hollywood, that wasn’t the case back then. Nixon didn’t understand why this meeting with Elvis was so important. When the two finally meet, it’s like an historic boxing match.

The historic office recordings did not start until 1971 but other than what is known, the writers did their finest to imagine what could have happened when these two met at the White House December 1970. They were lucky to have had Schilling and Krogh serve as consultants of sorts. We get that rare look at Elvis as a result.

Elvis & Nixon opens in theaters on Friday.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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