Fast paced, surprisingly good and entertaining film. Novel premise, with some truth mixed in. So so wonderful to see Kevin Spacey. Great job. I miss him. And Michael Shannon, too. A deadpan black comedy with some drama thrown in.
On 21 December 1970 two of America’s greatest recording artists met for the first time. This film comically imagines exactly what transpired to result in the meeting of these two iconic figures who could not have been more different. Featuring hilarious yet acutely observed performances by Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey as the titular characters, this is a hoot.
The joke begins with the casting of Shannon, who couldn’t resemble Elvis less either physically or vocally. But somehow the actor pulls off the characterisation, superbly conveying Presley’s oddness and self-absorbed isolation while also projecting sufficient charisma to be believable as an entertainment idol. It’s a hysterically deadpan turn that is movingly haunting as well.
Spacey uses his polished mimicry skills to superb effect as Nixon, uncannily recreating his guttural vocal mannerisms and hunched posture. But his performance goes beyond an expert impression, conveying the uneasiness in his own skin that strangely belied his political skills. It’s an affectionate warts-and-all portrayal that manages the difficult feat of making this much maligned historical figure vaguely sympathetic.
There is truth hidden in the film: Early on the morning of 21 December 1970, Elvis Presley rolled up to the front gate of the White House with a letter for President Richard Nixon. The King of Rock n’Roll wanted a meeting with the leader of the free world — more specifically, he wanted to be sworn in as an undercover narcotics agent. Presley delivered the handwritten note to a befuddled guard, who passed it up the ladder until it reached H.R. Haldeman, the infamously flinty Chief of Staff. By sunset that evening, Elvis was standing in the Oval Office, posing for a snapshot with a smiling President Nixon. Of all the images in American history, that (now easily Google-able) photograph became the most requested picture in the National Archives.
USA 2020, 83 min, rated M (offensive language)
Directed by Liza Johnson
Starring Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Tate Donovan, Colin Hanks, Even Peters, Tracy Letts & Johnny Knowville