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Tribeca 2016: Elvis & Nixon Review

It all started with a photograph. Have you ever wondered what the story was behind a photograph? Now one photograph of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon has been looked into and has been stretched out to a feature film with a focus on Presley and…his close friend Jerry Schilling?

Liza Johnson’s Elvis & Nixon tells the untold story of the legendary meeting between Elvis Aaron Presley (Michael Shannon) and Richard Milhous Nixon (Kevin Spacey), immortalized in the most requested photograph in the National Archives. Days before Christmas in 1970, the most famous man in America turns up at the doorstep of the most powerful one, inexplicably seeking to be made a Federal Agent at Large for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. What follows is a farcical scramble, as entourages jockey to coordinate a mutually acceptable meet-and-greet. One of the more surreal encounters in American history, the Elvis and Nixon meeting perhaps captures perfectly a pre-Watergate moment in time: before their names came to evoke tragedy and corruption; when the cultural cachet was passing from politicians to celebrities; and when America had both a King and a President.

For a movie based on a photograph and an audio recording, Elvis & Nixon, the film, really strives to stretch out the story from beginning to end and it sticks the landing gracefully. The movie no doubt is thoroughly entertaining with great performances from the cast especially from the side characters who are, when put in their own solo films, just dreadful to watch. Seeing actors like Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, and Colin Hanks [who is sounding more like his father every year] acting, as in seriously acting, is really good to see and director Liza Johnson does that very well.

The screenplay does play off some heartwarming dialogue that is just a delight to see when it comes into play. The best person in Elvis & Nixon by far is Kevin Spacey as Nixon where his movements and mannerisms are very similar to the real Nixon himself and his voice is spot on. The way he interacts with his men and Presley himself is nothing but sheer entertainment.

As much as you have to respect Johnson for making a complete feature film based on something so small, it is entirely silly as hell. It has a lighthearted charm to it, but Elvis & Nixon just suffers from silly actors performing awkward humor. By the time the sequence of Elvis meeting Nixon comes around, it just turns into a huge SNL skit that wouldn’t end. At first when you’re introduced to Michael Shannon as the King of Rock. You’re enticed onto how he is to play his role and his charisma and charm makes you eat it up. It wasn’t till the third act where I’m just seeing Shannon doing Elvis hand motions, and jumping around and acting like a fool to a point where it becomes downright annoying and grading. It’s one thing that Shannon bares no resemblance to Presley, but it’s another that you have an actor as talented and moving as Shannon acting like Elvis in an extended SNL sequence that sadly doesn’t brand the SNL name in its credits.

The cinematography also makes the film look like a television film production [even since this is the second production to be distributed from Amazon Studios]. The movie does have it’s comedic moments but it’s just awkward where the movie relies on silence or a curse to make you laugh. In other comedies it works, but in here it’s just odd. The movie also has a weird focus on Alex Pettyfer as Jerry Schilling one of Elvis’ closest friends. At one point it’s cool, but for a movie called Elvis & Nixon, it’s unnecessary. For a film that is only 86 minutes in length, it moves along very slowly. Thee second act where Elvis is trying to get a meeting with Nixon had me dozing off as every attempt Elvis tries is dull.

Though it is hampered by a really talented cast and good direction that leaves you entertained, the TV movie awkward silliness of Elvis & Nixon makes this second Amazon Studios feature film only to be seen nothing past your Amazon Kindle device.

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