Tuesday, April 26, 2016

ELVIS AND NIXON - New Movie Portrays Surreal 1970 Encounter of Two Unlikely Sympaticos

Most requested government photo depicting unexpected, unlikely  1970 White House meeting between two unlikely people who have more in common than one might have thought. The meeting which almost never happened turned out to be a surreal event as depicted in new movie, Elvis and Nixon

Elvis and Nixon Movie Review

with thanks to Chris McCoy (Memphis Flyer)

 In the deep recesses of Elvis lore, there is one image that stands out as particularly surreal: Elvis in full 70s regalia shaking hands with Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. As the prologue of Elvis and Nixon reminds us, it is by far the most requested image from the National Archive, more popular than the Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi or the Apollo 17 “Blue Marble” shot. As the image stares at us from the walls of countless dorm rooms and t shirts, it poses the inscrutable question, “What the hell was going on here?”

Director Liza Johnson tries to answer that question with Elvis and Nixon, with mixed success. One of the best choices from her and a trio of screenwriters (Joey Sagal, Hanna Sagal, and Cary Elews of Princess Bride fame) is beginning with the morning meeting where advisors Egil Keogh (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters) try to blithely slip in that the President’s nap time will be curtailed in favor of meeting with Mr. Presley. Kevin Spacey, used to playing a president in House Of Cards, absolutely nails Nixon, all hunched shoulders, quivering jowls, and indignation. 

When we meet Elvis (Michael Shannon), he’s restless and irritable, trapped in Graceland’s TV room like a panther in a cage. In this telling, it’s the images of the military flailing around in Southeast Asia and the anti-war movement that drive him to seek an audience with the president. No longer a conduit of youthful rebellion, but an early middle aged, wealthy member of the establishment, he’s disturbed by the direction of the country, and thinks the best way he can help is to become an undercover narc. The alternate theory, long entertained by druggies everywhere, that Elvis, buoyed by the finest formulations from Dr. Nick’s pharmacopeia, was pulling Nixon’s leg, is not entertained here.

Kevin Spacey, playing Nixon with Shannon playing Nixon, at right, in the Oval office.

The chance real life meeting between President Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley in December, 1970 almost never happened. But, when it did, the movie shows how  Nixon and Elvis would have much more in common than one might expect and even develop an instant affection for each other, hard to believe as it may , at first, seem. The fact is that Nixon and Elvis were both relative 'outsiders' at the time with  Nixon in the throes of Watergate and Elvis in the twilight years of his career-displaced by newer act such as the Beatles, who he detests, according to the movie. Both Elvis and Nixon see a deteriorating society with riots and drugs taking center stage- and both Elvis and Nixon would love to do somthing about it. So, Elvis, almost on a whim, flies out to Washington with a handwritten letter for Nixon in which he asks to be granted a 'deputy' role with badge so that he may help rid the country of some of perverse activities. 

Sounds like a very twisted Elvis, at first, and none of Nixon's henchmen such as Egil Krough and Dwight Chapin in Washington want  to let him get anywhere close to Nixon. But, after Elvis makes (Shannon) a very fluid, articulate case time and again, he gets closer and closer to the meeting, in which Nixon, on first blush, had no interest.  By the end of the meeting, Nixon was begging for the above picture of the two together- which Elvis had been very weary of, until Nixon gave him his 'deputy' authority and access to the badge.

The movie is very 'campy' with great off-beat humor - whether artistic license or not. Kevin Spacey plays a cartoonish, hunched Nixon, who, by the end becomes a sympathetic figure. Shannon looks nothing like Elvis ever did but, putting looks aside, is very believable and likable, too, with his unique 'concocted' scheme to help America and , perhaps, do something humanitarian during a up and down later career..

The movie even makes a statement on the Mid-East War then against the backdrop of today's Mid-East Crisis while leaning conservative - a real departure for Hollywood today - with both Nixon and Presley wishing to stamp out the 'enemy' in Syria and Iraq. This comes, against an Obama administration of today , that seems to be in no real hurry -perhaps just the opposite - to slow the Mid-East crisis of today. 

So, from what seems to be a 'thin'  story line, at first, becomes a real character study of a movie develops - one that holds our interest throughout it's short 96 minute length.  It's something very unusual to see these days, and well worth a view before the movie goes away. The movie was almost empty during its first days in theaters.

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