Saturday 25 June 2016

Review: Elvis & Nixon

Elvis & Nixon
Cert: 15 / 86 mins / Dir. Liza Johnson / Trailer

Well, you know you haven't come to watch any run-of-the-mill flick when the demographically-targeted preceding trailers are for The Neon Demon and Julieta. Although that eclectic vibe is offset somewhat by the film having that San Miguel ad bolted onto it (yes, that again). And that's probably not a bad analogy for Elvis & Nixon, to be honest: a mainstream, if offbeat, script-driven caper, presented for a fairly niche audience. So niche, in fact, that after two walkouts in the first twenty minutes, I was treated to my own private screening (that's no reflection on either the film or the venue, it's just how these things work out sometimes).

Expanding on the famous photo of of the eponymous duo, Liza Johnson's film tells the story of the time that the patriotic Elvis wanted to be sworn in to the government as a Federal Agent at Large*1 working with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. His idea was that as a touring entertainer and experienced actor, he could covertly infiltrate and intercept the supply and trafficking of drugs over a wide area for the government. Yes, covert. Yes, Elvis. And in order to pursue that goal, Presley started at the top with the then-President of the USA. A playful title-card in the opening sequence informs the audience that while the characters of the film are (were) very much real, the details of the story itself are completely unverifiable. It's the very antithesis of true-story exploitation

And it's a lot of fun. The humour is largely smirk-inducing, but I guffawed enough to class the film firmly as a dry comedy. Surprisingly straight-faced given the self-awarely preposterous nature of the story, the cast are still enjoying themselves enormously and revelling in the film. Although an oddly notable exception is Alex Pettyfer as Jerry, Elvis' long-time friend and fixer, who seems to play his role completely straight. He's great doing it and it never de-rails what's meant to be an intensely odd film anyway, but his seriousness would be more rational if anyone else was joining him. On the main stage, they may be two of the finest actors of our generation but Michael Shannon never quite becomes Presley, and Kevin Spacey never quite becomes Nixon. They've both got the vocalisations and mannerisms down, but neither performance can escape the gravity of its owner (although in many ways that also adds to the film's charm).

Oh, and considering the film takes place in late 1970, the general wardrobe and makeup are very 1970s. In fact, between this and Everybody Wants Some (set in 1980), it appears that America had the same haircut for a decade.

When you're in the mood for something a little different, this should fit the bill nicely. It's also going to make a great companion piece to Bubba Ho-Tep, although you'd probably want to watch Elvis & Nixon first…

Oh, and for the last time, film-industry types, the ampersand is indeed a lovely thing but punctuation breaks hashtags. Anyone posting online about the actual title on your poster (ie #Elvis&Nixon) is more likely to be adding to the ongoing discussion about The King himself, rather than marketing the film for you. I love punctuation as much as anyone but keep it out of film titles ;)

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Although it's not trying to be anywhere near as dynamic, there's a hint of Pulp Fiction here in the dialogue and performances.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Only if you want to see it sooner rather than later.
The film won't be ruined by watching it at home

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's definitely on their A-list.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This fim's got Evan Peters in it, and he starred in that X-Men: Apocalypse alongside Rose 'Dormé' Byrne and Oscar 'Dameron' Isaac.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 The definition, indeed existence of such a title is a recurring joke throughout the movie which gets better each time it rears its head.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

1 comment:

  1. Loved the humor in this film. I agree that Shannon and Spacey's performances not being quite on-the-nose added to the charm.

    Great review.

    - Zach