Elvis is concerned about the direction of America, an America still involved with the Vietnam War and one having student protests on college campuses. Elvis, like a movie cowboy, wants to help clean things up. He basically wants President Nixon to deputized him, if you will, and give him a badge. What I loved most about Shannon's performance is that he gave you a look inside Elvis' broken heart and also played Elvis' extreme loopy rock star behavior as it was completely logical.
President Richard Nixon has been played onscreen previously. Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella got Oscar nominations for playing him in drama. Dan Hedaya played him for laughs in the satire, Dick. Kevin Spacey plays him for laughs here. In this film, he's the strict and not exactly photogenic Republican president and not popular with young Americans the way Elvis is. This Nixon is cranky, jealous, a little confused and ultimately impressed with the star whose presence could make the president seem a bit groovy with the kids.
I've been a Michael Shannon fan for a few years now. Especially when I saw his lead role in the indie drama, BUG, in 2006. His is a face that seems to have been molded specifically for drama. If you saw his Best Supporting Actor Oscar-nominated performance in 2008's REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and if you watched him as the 1920s Prohibition era federal agent on the HBO series BOARDWALK EMPIRE, you know what I mean. In his meaty supporting and lead roles, rarely has delivered scenes with a comedy tone that made us laugh. Michael Shannon made me laugh in ELVIS & NIXON. He's quite good. So is Spacey, an actor who's had way more comedy assignments onscreen that Shannon has. The movie is really just about that odd meeting, one that disrupts the White House schedule. There's a B-story about Jerry Schilling's love life and how it might suffer because he constantly has to be Elvis' wrangler. It's an underwritten part of the script but it's so minor that it doesn't get in that way of the odd couple situation played by Shannon and Spacey.
I hope Hollywood takes notice of director Liza Johnson. ELVIS & NIXON could've come off like an extended Saturday Night Live sketch that grew tiresome after 60 minutes. But it didn't. She gave us a breezy, entertaining, funny movie and a new look at the rich talents of Michael Shannon.
ELVIS & NIXON runs about 90 minutes long and it opens on April 22nd. That's the day Nixon died in 1994. Coincidence?