Arts

A meeting of suspicious minds: Elvis & Nixon

It was a meeting between two of the 20th Century's most well-known figures: new movie Elvis & Nixon imagines what transpired when The King was granted an audience with Tricky Dicky at The White House

Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon (left) and Michael Shannon as Elvis Presley (right) in Liza Johnson's Elvis & Nixon

Elvis & Nixon (15, 86 mins) Drama/Comedy.

Starring: Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Sky Ferreira, Tracy Letts, Tate Donovan, Ashley Benson.

Director: Liza Johnson.

Rating: 3 stars

ON DECEMBER 21, 1970, chart-topping singer Elvis Presley arrived unannounced at the gates of the White House in full regalia with a rambling correspondence for US President Richard Nixon.

In the hand-written letter, the singer requested that he be granted the special status of Federal Agent At Large for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in order to use his influence to dissuade America's youth from experimenting with illegal substances and engaging in other counterculture behaviour.

There was no such position within the administration, but Nixon agreed to an audience with the musical superstar.

This meeting of suspicious minds remained secret for over a year and the US National Archive now receives more requests for copies of the black and white photograph of Nixon and Presley standing side-by-side in the Oval Office than the Constitution of the United States or the Bill of Rights.

There are no audio records of the men's conversation.

Director Liza Johnson elicits compelling performances from Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey for her amusing and outlandish dramatisation of this head-on collision of pop royalty and political hubris.

Elvis & Nixon evokes the period with bling-laden style and scriptwriters Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes revel in the preposterousness of the brief encounter.

The film opens in the plush confines of Graceland where Elvis (Shannon) is horrified by the anarchy he sees unfolding on his television screen.

Determined to halt his country's descent into depravity, Elvis compels his good friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) to join him on a madcap odyssey to Washington DC

Sonny West (Johnny Knoxville), another trusted member of the entourage, joins the party and the trio are granted admission to the White House by Chief of Staff Harry Robbins Haldeman (Tate Donovan).

Special advisor Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) and the President's Deputy Assistant, Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters), carefully stage-manage proceedings with Nixon (Spacey).

The President's initial disdain for the singer's letter is evident.

"I wrote it on the plane," confesses Elvis.

"I could tell," retorts Nixon dryly.

This frostiness gradually melts as the President discovers that his jumpsuit-clad visitor empathises about the insidious influence of the media and shares his withering opinion of The Beatles.

Elvis & Nixon provides the lead duo with plentiful opportunities for scenery-chewing, not least when the singer first enters the Oval Office and ransacks the President's private supply of soft drinks and candy.

Verbal references to events that reverberate today jar, as if they have been shoehorned into dialogue at the last minute, like when Nixon casually remarks, "This whole thing with the Iraqis and the Syrians will go away in a couple of weeks."

Shannon and Spacey relish their on-screen verbal duels and they add lustre to a film that might otherwise have been consigned straight to home formats.

:: Released June 24.

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