Elvis & Nixon is pretty much a disaster, except for Michael Shannon’s fun take on Elvis, but I still don’t think that is enough for you to bother with the film.
The trailer for Elvis & Nixon mentions how the picture of these two icons shaking hands is the most requested picture in the National Archives and sadly the film doesn’t develop much beyond a recreation and build up to that moment. It doesn’t feel like a movie, it doesn’t feel like anything really, the film feels like it is just going through the motions to recreate this moment. The film allows room for some fun, never taking itself that seriously, but Shannon is the only one to really feel out that room.
Colin Hanks and Evan Peters seem like they are game as a couple of Nixon’s top aides, as does Spacey as Nixon, but the film never finds the right tone with the Nixon administration. It seems like director Liza Johnson intended to depict the Nixon team as a staff of bumbling idiots, especially once those title cards about where these guys all ended up pops up on the screen, but it never quite gets there. You can see what she was going for, but they never fully embrace the goofball tone they seem to want to take things.
Shannon gets there, and is clearly having a blast, as he is able to easily capture the absurdity that Elvis is famous for while able to sell us on the self serious side of the singer as well. He might be on a ridiculous quest, but Shannon never lets you forget that Elvis believes in all of it, every step of the way. Shannon is always fun to watch, it’s just a shame that he doesn’t have a better film around him to make the performance worth even checking out.
Though, the real disaster of the film is Alex Pettyfer and everything he is involved with in the picture. Now, Pettyfer has never been an amazing talent, but here, he is so bad, that I constantly found myself wondering what the reaction to this performance was on the set of this film. Were Shannon and Spacey looking at this guy thinking, “WTF?” He is that terrible. He literally gives you one look in every scene he is in. There is only one level of emotion he can deliver her. It is a performance so terrible that he should never be hired by anyone again, as his presence in another film will immediately have me doubting the filmmaking talent involved. Too harsh? Sadly, I think not. To make matters worse, the character he is playing is supposed to be this hyper competent fixer guy and you would never know it. I laughed aloud when his character’s title card popped up on the screen telling us that he went on to be this great producer for these big music acts, yet, my laughter quickly faded when I thought about how embarrassed the real life guy must be of this performance. The fact that Pettyfer’s character arc is centered around whether he will get on a plane or not and leave Elvis behind also has no weight, and again I was laughing at the film when he, of course, was going to ask his girlfriend’s father for her hand in marriage that night. Not once was there an ounce of tension.
Shannon might be having fun, but there really is no reason for pretty much anyone to watch Elvis & Nixon. It’s not revealing in any way, the film never feels comfortable and it features one of the worst performances you will ever see in a film of this caliber. If you are still interested and have a Prime membership, this will be available on Amazon’s service within a month, but please don’t spend any money on this bad, bad film.