Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 27 April 2016

The King & the Curmudgeon

Adrianne and I went to the movies last night and saw Elvis & Nixon, a truly marvelous little film. Except by word of mouth, I fear it unfortunately won’t get much publicity. I mean, had you heard of it before now? But for sheer entertainment value, I give it a 9 out of 10.

The trailer (below) nicely sets the stage for this 87-minute gem. Kevin Spacey is phenomenal (when is he not?), and Michael Shannon (General Zod in the Superman movies; film debut as Fred in Groundhog Day) gives a portrayal of Elvis that I think even the King himself would have approved.

Anyone with memories of either Elvis “the King” Presley or Richard “I am not a crook!” Nixon should make an effort to see it.

As a former student of the Watergate affair, I was also entertained by the film’s portrayals of soon-to-be-convicted-felons Egil “Bud” Krogh (Colin Hanks), Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters), and H.R. Haldeman (Tate Donovan). After Elvis has come to the White House seeking a meeting with Nixon, Krogh and Chapin fly into Haldeman’s office, telling him he’ll never believe who just showed up. Haldeman demands, “Who?” “The King,” says Krogh. Ever-literal Haldeman barks back, “He doesn’t have any meetings with royalty today!” Krogh: “No. THE King!”

The soundtrack was a joy, as well, pulling original songs from the period with subtle meaning for the plot. At the beginning of Elvis’ quest to meet the President, Sam and Dave alert us to “Hold On, I’m Coming!” And when word comes back from the White House that Nixon had initially denied the request, Elvis announces he needs to go out for some air. That poignant moment happens to the voice of Sister Rosetta Tharpe singing “There Will Be Peace in the Valley For Me.” Elvis’ cover of that recording became my mother’s all-time favorite song of his, and one of his most highly acclaimed records. Did you know that the only Grammy Awards Elvis ever won were for his Gospel recordings? Just another example of attention to detail, demonstrating that the filmmakers certainly did their homework.

Elvis & Nixon (real)

The film captured this moment so accurately in detail that I had to look twice to be certain if this photo was the real encounter or its re-make. Of course, it’s real.

The critics have been somewhat mixed in their reactions to Elvis & Nixon, but with an obvious lean toward the positive. It has a 59 (out of 100) Metacritic rating, but a significantly higher 76% rating from Rotten Tomatoes.

My usual go-to critic, Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal, seems (in my opinion, at least) to have missed the caricaturish, political-fairy-tale-like point of the film. He wrote that “it’s a reasonably clever contrivance built around a pair of droll, skin-deep performances that are smart and entertaining, yet oddly lacking in intensity.” In the entire time I was watching the film, I never once pined for more intensity.

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film its strongest accolades: “How was this not a movie before now? The good news is, it was worth the wait. Elvis & Nixon is one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen this year — a whip-smart slice of strange history bolstered by pitch-perfect period-piece references, two excellent, offbeat performances and a brisk sense of pacing. Even the screenplay credits are appropriately surreal.”

(A small warning: it’s rated R for “some language” — mainly, I think, for Bud Krogh’s quietly, frantically, and comically dropping the f-bomb under his breath when reacting to Nixon’s eccentricities.)

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