Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Elvis & Nixon on Amazon: History As It Could Have Been Written

I don't usually review comedies, but Elvis & Nixon isn't really a comedy, though it's billed as such, and even though it does have lots of laughing-out-loud scenes and lines.

But the Amazon original movie mostly is a seemingly cracked but deeply revealing double bio-pic, and a bio-pic not of two lives, but of what led up to a single moment in history when Elvis Presley met Richard Nixon in the White House.  The photograph above, the most requested from the National Archives, captured that moment.

The movie provides the background, true in general, but like all docu-dramas, replete with dialogue written for the movie.

What we learn about Nixon is nothing new, but ever fascinating to see.   He's a deeply insecure man, even in the most powerful office on the planet.  He complains to an aide, before the meeting, that he's not very good-looking, and doesn't have it as easy as guys like the Kennedys and Elvis who are.   Although Elvis doesn't hear this, he later compliments Nixon on his good lucks, as part of his successful effort to butter him up.

Elvis is riven with insecurity, too.  It's not only December 1970, but December or at very least the late Fall of Elvis's career.  Though millions of course know of him and still adore him, it's an older crowd, and he's no longer making the record-breaking records that launched him to superstardom, succeeding Frank Sinatra in the 1950s, gyrating on the Ed Sullivan show, and Elvis knows this.  He hates the Beatles, and is almost bored with his public.   Indeed his passion at this point is what brings him to the White House - collecting police badges, in pursuit of a badge as a Federal agent at large, a position he's conjured into being.

Kevin Spacey at Nixon is of course perfect and superb.  Michael Shannon, last seen to good effect on Boardwalk Empire, is outstanding as Elvis.  If you'd like to know what this off-beat movie most reminds me of it would be the second season of Fargo, which takes place in 1979.   Elvis & Nixon and Fargo have almost nothing specifically in common - the one point of similarity would be Reagan appearing in an episode of Fargo - but the two share a uniquely true, bizarre but incisive ambience you'll find in few other places on the screen.

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