Potential left at the table. Do you know what the most requested photo in the National Archives is? It’s President Nixon shaking hands with the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. Elvis & Nixon recreates what very well may have happened right before that photo was taken. This was a movie that I was curious about, at least on paper. Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon almost always attach themselves to interesting projects with integrity behind them (although I am very curious to see the new Kevin Spacey talking cat movie). While they don’t immediately scream the characters that they are portraying in Elvis & Nixon, that’s not necessarily a deal breaker; the best Nixon performance of all time can be found in the movie Frost/Nixon, and Frank Langella doesn’t even remotely look like Richard. I was on board with this movie, and while it does have its moments, it never reaches the level of quality it could have easily obtained with only some minor changes.
Some writer looked at this movie and said, “I wonder…”
The biggest shortcoming of this movie is what I thought was going to be a strongest part: it’s Michael Shannon. I know he’s a talented actor from all of his previous work, but he has now turned in the first performance I’ve seen that I would call lacking. He’s not doing your traditional Elvis impression, and it would be perfectly fine to go that route, but he is barely even trying. You can call it an acting choice if you will, but as far as how it reads to the audience, it just comes off as lazy more than anything. And you would think that a movie about Elvis would at least have some of his music featured, right? Well, prepare to be disappointed. But hey, this isn’t called Elvis, this is titled Elvis & Nixon. I actually was very pleased with the performance that Kevin Spacey turned in here, but there is a giant problem: he’s barely in this movie. He has one brief two-minute scene, and then he doesn’t pop back up until around the 40 minute mark. If you check the runtime, you’ll realize that this is about at the midpoint, which is disappointing, because he is one of the better things to be found here.
It’s the first movie that I would be okay with less Michael Shannon.
This is a movie that should have been way more fun than it ultimately ends up being. Everybody is making such a big deal about this meeting the entire movie, and I’m sorry, but it never feels all that important. Because the lead up to this meeting is literally the only thing that this movie is about, it makes it seem like its not going anywhere. When we finally arrive at the meeting, it finally starts to get interesting, but it takes a full hour to get there, at which point you are already more than restless. It’s a 2-star opening hour and a 4-star closing 20-minutes, which makes for a pretty straightforward math equation.
Elvis & Nixon (2016) **1/2
– Critic for Hire