The most requested photograph from the National Archives is an odd one: a picture of President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office with Elvis Presley. Aside from the photograph’s existence, though, not much is actually known about how or why this meeting took place. Since that would never stop anyone from making a film about it, Elvis & Nixon wisely acknowledges this fact early on, and proceeds to tell a brisk tale about what might have happened when Elvis (Michael Shannon) stopped by to meet Nixon (Kevin Spacey).
While the “what” is entertaining enough, what sells this movie as being worth seeing are the performances of its leads. As Elvis, Shannon avoids doing a straight-on Elvis impression. Instead, he just makes Elvis a little cool and a little more crazy. But it’s a crazy that seems plausible, especially considering how nearly everyone around him behaves in his presence. As for Nixon, many other actors have taken on this role, but Spacey manages to get Nixon’s mannerisms down without venturing into mimicry. He’s stiff, and he’s paranoid, but it’s hard to argue that he shouldn’t be. When the two finally come together in the Oval, it’s astonishing to watch the two perform in unison. That alone is enough reason to check out Elvis & Nixon. That it’s also an undeniable hoot is just a bonus.