Elvis & Nixon

Here is a film that recreates a moment in history that will defy your expectations from beginning to end.

Elvis & NixonDon’t ask me to explain it, because it is fundamentally impossible. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that Elvis & Nixon is a hidden, cinematic gem. There is a reason why laughter repeatedly permeated the theater, and you’ll simply have to see it to find out for yourself.

Director Liza Johnson’s film focuses on one day in 1970 when President Nixon overcame his initial disgust and met with The King in the Oval Office. Seeking to end the youthful strife permeating our country at the time, the delightfully deranged Mr. Presley sought the President’s approval to be appointed a secret undercover agent for the DEA.

Sex, drugs, rock and roll, racial tensions and Vietnam had turned our country on its collective head, and Elvis thought he could make a contribution. There were a lot of things that upset The King, not the least of which was his belief that the Beatles were Communist conspirators.

Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey are a treat to watch with their portrayals of Presley and Tricky Dick. Sure, neither physically resembles their character, but both capture recognizable nuances that remain familiar to this day.

Elvis is a legend, and you need look no further than the fact that his home at Graceland remains a large tourist attraction. Songs like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “All Shook Up” are unforgettable, and he proved himself to be a talented actor with his initial release, Love Me Tender (1956).

The years were not kind to Elvis, and he became a walking caricature as he neared an early death in 1977. I saw him in his last concert here in Indianapolis at Market Square Arena on June 26th of that year, and I still recall women screaming as he threw sweaty scarves to the crowd during his performance.

Yes, I know that President Nixon opened the door to China as well as initiated the Environmental Protection Agency, but more young men my age died in Vietnam following his election in 1968 than did under President Johnson. His fall from grace as a result of Watergate was a fitting dénouement by any definition.

While this film is largely a two man show, there were some supporting roles that should not be overlooked. Alex Pettyfer stands out as Presley’s old friend and personal assistant Jerry Schilling, a gentleman who went on to represent The Beach Boys and Lisa Marie, Elvis’ daughter. Johnny Knoxville plays Presley’s longtime assistant Sonny, a character largely resembling himself. In addition, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters and Tate Donovan are pitch perfect as presidential assistants Egil Krough, Dwight Chapin and H.R. Haldeman.

Nixon had not begun secretly taping everything in his office when our boys met, so the interaction between he and The King is based on the guesswork and speculation of screenwriters Joey and Hanala Sagal. Even so, you see the President’s nasty side, and Elvis’ decision to ignore instructions and consume the President’s M&Ms and soda pop are moments of pure joy.