Elvis & Nixon (2016)

(Video on Demand, September 2016) This off-beat film is based on the famous photograph of Elvis Presley meeting Richard Nixon in the White House. While the real story of the picture is detailed elsewhere for your fascination, the film uses the real story as a springboard to explore the character of Elvis, Nixon and those surrounding them—obviously providing the best dramatic arcs to the supporting characters rather than the titular historic figures. Michael Shannon isn’t bad as late-period Elvis: paranoid, unstable, not entirely deluded yet still charismatic and loyal enough to be likable. Kevin Spacey is equally good as Nixon, although the film doesn’t focus on him as much. Compressing the timeline of the events to barely 24 hours gives some energy to the picture at the expense of credibility, but the screenwriter doesn’t waste time in using this charged schedule to develop characters. Elvis & Nixon is almost refreshing in that there isn’t much traditional conflict to the picture. Sure, White House advisors fret about whether they can convince their boss to meet with a genuine superstar, and our viewpoint protagonist wants to make it home to meet his girlfriend’s parents, but otherwise this is a film that is content just exploring facets of its premise and taking viewers by the hand rather than shove a spectacle in their face. There are far better portrayals of Nixon out there in the film universe (I’m still fond of the silly comedy Dick) and more convincing Elvis impersonators, but their union in the same film is special enough and treated reasonably well. Elvis & Nixon will never become a well-known success, nor will it play much once its initial Pay TV window is over. But it works reasonably well at what it tries to do, and it takes us along for the gentle ride.

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