Steve Dietl/Bleecker Street
Elvis & Nixon (2016)
Extrapolating entirely from a photo of Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley shaking hands in the Oval Office, “Elvis & Nixon” reimagines the events leading up to the curious meeting between the king of rock and roll (Michael Shannon) and the disgraced former president (Kevin Spacey). Suffice it to say, there’s less value to the history lesson on offer here than, say, the one from “Frost/Nixon.”
As per the film, Presley, apparently ennuied with his life of excess, coveted the role of an undercover federal narcotics agent in the Nixon administration. Nixon’s aides saw an opportunity and proceeded to arrange the meeting despite that the president himself dismissed the idea and chafed at its frivolity.
Mr. Spacey nails the Nixon impersonation right down to the physicality, his performance more than holding its own against previous efforts by Frank Langella, Anthony Hopkins, Dan Hedaya et al. Mr. Shannon, however, fails to convince. It’s a nuanced, understated performance to be sure, but he emanates none of the swagger or snarling star quality so indelibly associated with the king. When the plot juxtaposes Mr. Shannon’s Elvis with professional Elvis impersonators at an airport lounge to reveal the man behind the caricature, the whole film just implodes.