Elvis & Nixon, on the surface, seems like it would similarly not work. The concept seems excessively gimmicky and underwhelming. What was it like when Elvis Presley met Richard Nixon? All the concept did, for me, reminded me of the old Scooby-Doo cartoons where he gang teamed up with the Harlem Globetrotters or the Three Stooges. The idea seemed like the kind of thing that would hold an audience’s attention for about ten minutes, but would trail off toward the back-end when the film realized it had no substance.
Thankfully, Elvis & Nixon fared far better than Batman v. Superman, deciding that a movie with little in the way of conflict or struggle had to have interesting characters and a pleasing aesthetic to be worth watching. Elvis & Nixon is carried by its leads, who are played by Michael Shannon (Man of Steel and Boardwalk Empire) and Kevin Spacey (American Beauty and House of Cards). The performances from both of these actors are excellent, as they don’t merely play caricatures of the iconic figures they represent. Neither of them really do an impression of their real-life counterpart, nor do they play up the iconic lines that these two are known for. They both created characters rather than stereotypes, which makes the movie far more entertaining and, at times, very funny.
The movie has the added benefit of oozing style. Taking place in December of 1970, the way everything looks, sounds and feels in this movie is quintessential to the time period. I’m a sucker for movies that can truly take you back to the era that they are emulating, and Elvis & Nixon really made me feel like I was back in the time of Woodstock.
Unfortunately, the issue still remains that the movie lacks substantial conflict. The film follows Elvis, who fears that the youth of America have been infected by the drug and hippie culture of the day. He wants to meet with President Nixon so that he can be issued a badge to be a Federal Agent-at-Large, busting up drug rings and saving lives. After what amounts to very little struggle, Elvis gets what he wants and the meeting with the president ensues.
And that’s pretty much the whole film. Carried by its style and lead actors, I fear that the movie doesn’t have a lot of longevity. I enjoyed watching it, but I don’t think I’d ever want to see it again. Without a central driving conflict, or really any arc for the characters, the movie feels like fluff. Tasty fluff, but still fluff.