Friday, April 22, 2016

A Reel Review: ELVIS & NIXON

A good story can be found anywhere; in a novel, comic-book, history book, news article, or corner pub. For director Liza Johnson, an obscure and nearly forgotten moment in history which occurred in 1970 was her inspiration…a moment when Mr. President met Mr. Presley.

Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) becomes concerned about the safety of the United States and recruits his best friends Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer), and Sonny West (Johnny Knoxville) to accompany him to Washington, DC…where he requests a meeting with President Richard M. Nixon (Kevin Spacey) so he could get a Federal Agent badge and work undercover.

ELVIS & NIXON spends most of its time following Elvis as he persistently, and wholeheartedly pursues his goal of obtaining his coveted badge, with the remaining time dedicated to a grumpy Nixon who wants nothing to do with him whatsoever. The early goings set are set up in a familiar cinematic journey, with Elvis setting out for his goal, encountering many ups and downs and setbacks, and coming across a host of star-struck people. Nixon meanwhile acts as the antagonist, refusing to meet with the flamboyant rock star simply because he doesn’t understand him.

Director Liza Johnson uses this time wisely. She manages to dig deep during the time before the meeting, dropping hints here and there over what makes these two men, who couldn’t be more different…tick. Once the meeting does happen (about an hour into the film), the two men initially prod each other like predators before finding common ground, and here is where ELVIS & NIXON really pays off. The meeting feels earned, because Johnson had done a fine job of laying the groundwork on the way. Its love and family which drives the two men, and its love and family which makes the meeting not end in a fistfight or any sort of disaster. As icing on the cake, Johnson lets her two characters explore the themes of fame and responsibility, and it adds a bonus layer to work with.

Johnson keeps the pacing quick and humor light, and 1970’s Washington and Hollywood look great on the big screen. The style and pacing make for a fun ride, but she still manages to sneak in a hint of sweet melancholy as the two characters are only a few short years away from events that will change their lives forever. If the film has any fault its un-needed sub-plot involving Elvis’ best friend Jerry Schilling, who is torn between helping Elvis and heading home to propose to his girlfriend. It’s there to add depth, but it tends to be a distraction from the fun we’re having with the rock star and politician. The movie also tends to forget its setting; the meeting takes place in December, yet characters walk around Washington as if it’s 90 degrees (Virginia has mild winters, but not that warm).

Michael Shannon is terrific as Elvis. He doesn’t look like the man most of the time (the times when he does are chilling), and Johnson’s neat trick of having people freak-out when they see him adds to the believability. Shannon gets the body language, voice, and mannerisms of Elvis just right, and he finds a deeper level during the more intimate scenes which makes him a true character and not just a good-looking prop. Kevin Spacey manages to look quite like Nixon with the hunch and growl and is very entertaining. The supporting cast of Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, and Tate Donovan are all excellent.

ELVIS & NIXON runs at a brisk 90 minutes, and for a film which barely makes feature-length and only has a dozen main speaking roles and set-pieces, it feels like a lot happened. This isn’t a story which involves an earth-shattering moment or the changing of a generation, but instead a quick tale of two people coming from opposite ends of the galaxy landing on the same planet. ELVIS & NIXON is a meeting worth sticking around for.


1 comment:

  1. You completely match our expectation and the variety of our information. quality wordpress themes


A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.