On a December morning in 1970, the King of Rock 'n' Roll showed up on the lawn of the White House to request a meeting with the most powerful man in the world, President Nixon. Starring Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon (Best Supporting Actor, Revolutionary Road, 2008) as Elvis Presley and two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey (Best Actor, American Beauty, 1999 and Best Supporting Actor, The Usual Suspects, 1995) as Richard Nixon, comes the untold story behind this revealing, yet humorous moment in the Oval Office, forever immortalized in the most requested photograph in the National Archives.
Part of the fun of biopics or movies about historic events is that they work as a sort of visual time capsule. They're a way for people to be reminded of the past, fashions, architecture, technology - all of it can be put on display without having to wait 100 years to dig up a box. It's a way for people to reconnect to an important era or event and possibly be entertained. The catch 22 of this is that the movie may not always be the most accurate source of information - even if it revolves around a well-known event. In this case, when Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll met the president of the united states Richard M. Nixon. We know the pair met, we've seen the photos, but how they met and the circumstances are for the most part, unknown. Directed by Liza Johnson and written by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal, and Cary Elwes 'Elvis & Nixon' recounts the odd and humorous circumstances of how two of the most influential men of the 20th century met.
As 1970 is coming to a close, the United States is stuck in a bloody war in Viet Nam. There is unrest in the streets as the nation's youth clash with authority figures. John Lennon is urging these young people to protest and pins the world's problems squarely on the shoulders of President Richard M. Nixon. All of this is just too much for The King. Elvis (Michael Shannon) has had enough, so with his trusty .45 and his ankle pistol he's going to Washington D.C. traveling commercial air - except no one seemed to tell him he couldn't bring guns onto an airplane. In order for Elvis to get back on track with his secret mission, he's got to call in his best friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) to not only get him out of jail but get him back on his way to Washington D.C. in order to meet with President Nixon.
Along with their friend Sonny West (Johnny Knoxville), Jerry and Elvis set about meeting Nixon. After dropping by the White House gates to hand-deliver a letter, the wheels of government are set in motion to ensure this clandestine meeting will happen. President Nixon (Kevin Spacey) doesn't want to have anything to do with the King of Rock and Roll, but his aids Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters) along with White House Chief of Staff H.R. Halderman (Tate Donovan) think it's a great idea that the President meet Elvis. With Nixon's approval rating in the gutter, this meeting could well be the thing they need to turn the numbers around and put the nation back into favor with the President. The only trouble is they have no idea what they're in for when the King of Rock and Roll comes to town!
For a President who was so paranoid about the people that he worked with that he recorded nearly 4,000 hours of Oval Office meetings, it's incredible that on December 21, 1970, those recorders would be turned off. Other than anecdotal stories from Jerry Schilling himself, there are no real official records giving the world the details behind the meeting that lead to the shooting of the most requested photograph in the National Archives. Just how did Elvis Aaron Presley and Richard Milhous Nixon meet? While 'Elvis & Nixon' goes a long way towards providing a hilarious and entirely possibly account for this meeting, the viewer needs to take it with an extreme grain of salt. It's better to view this movie as a sort of cartoon rather than a real to life account of events.
At the head of this movie are two incredible actors playing two of the most polarizing and famous Americans. Michael Shannon as Elvis and Kevin Spacey as Nixon is perfect casting. Given that this particular story features these two individuals, one would naturally expect that this 'Elvis & Nixon' would be loaded with over the top caricature portrayals. Thankfully, Shannon and Spacey play things with an amount of straight forward restraint. Shannon isn't trying to crib all of the Elvis mannerisms and Spacey isn't just goofing around as a jittery gesticulating Nixon. They just feel like they're playing real life honest men - only with a slightly humorous bent. It's absurd when you hear Elvis' supposed real motivation for wanting to meet Nixon, but at the same time, you can totally believe it. I don't want to spoil it here because it is actually a smart recurring joke.
Taken as a whole, 'Elvis & Nixon' isn't the type of comedy that delivers great big belly laughs. You more or less chuckle your way through the movie and that's perfectly okay for this type of story. As a pseudo-biopic, 'Elvis & Nixon' works to tell the tall tale behind the meeting of two of the most famous Americans who ever rose to the height of fame and power. While some of the details of the film may have happened in this way, it's important not to take this too seriously and just let it wash over you because it is damn fun.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Elvis & Nixon' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures. Pressed onto a Region A BD25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case. The disc opens to trailers for other Sony releases before arriving at a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
In an effort to recapture the look and stylings of the early 1970s, this 2.40:1 1080p has a pretty soft focus look to it. While shot digitally, the image retains a film-like presence to it. Colors are bright and bold and well saturated with plenty of primary pop. Black levels are stable with the right amount of inky presence and shadow separation to give the image a sense of depth. All around this is a very pleasing looking transfer, but it isn't exactly a show stopper either. Unremarkable is probably the best way to describe it. Given all of the work that went into it to make the movie look the way that it does, it's not one to break out as a demo for the format.
'Elvis & Nixon' arrives with a decent English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track. The only trouble with this track really is that there isn't much in the way of any surround activity to speak of. Dialogue comes through crystal clear and is never at odds with the scoring, sound effects, or the numerous period tunes. Imaging is fine in a stereo sense, but there is very little if any surround movement. The only time those side channels ever really kick in is when those pop tunes of the era take over the scene. Unfortunately, none of those songs are Elvis tunes, but they're pretty good at setting the scene. The track is clean and clear and free of any artifacts, but like it's image, it's relatively unremarkable.
Audio Commentary: Director Liza Johnson and Jerry Schilling provide a fascinating and in-depth commentary track for this film. It's really fascinating stuff and Schilling offers up tons of info about Elvis and meeting President Nixon. If you're a fan of the film then you really need to sit down and take this one in.
Crazy but True: (HD 3:29) This is a sadly too brief EPK style feature. This could have been its own making of/pseudo-documentary of the true event.
It's tough to not be fascinated by a movie revolving the lives of either Elvis or Nixon, but when you have a movie where both of those dynamic personalities collide, you have to give it a look see. Thankfully, the film delivers the goods. This could have been a big missed opportunity but the great performances from Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon keep this movie lively and fun. Sony brings the film to Blu-ray with a serviceable image and audio presentation and a commentary track that is well worth the listen. The movie alone is well worth the watch, making 'Elvis & Nixon' worth a look.