From ‘Moonlight’ to ‘Elvis & Nixon,’ the smallest details loom large in the year’s finest films.
That’s a moon rock,” President Richard Nixon, played by Kevin Spacey, says. “Very proud to have that here in the Oval Office. That was given to me personally by a great American — Buzz Aldrin.” He suggests his guest, Elvis Presley, pick up the rock to see for himself.
“No, that’s cool man,” Elvis (Michael Shannon) says with a backyard ease. “Buzz sent me one, too.” He’s Elvis, remember?
With that, Liza Johnson’s Elvis & Nixon, one of the best and most slept-on movies of the year, shows its hand. Its subject is a side story: the December 21, 1970 encounter between Elvis and Nixon in the Oval Office, and the resulting photograph that’s been a bizarre pop artifact ever since. There was a chance here to tell a zany story about a strained meeting between a president and a pop star (and in fact, the movie’s cutesy music is telling that story, to its detriment). But Johnson does something more imaginative, instilling her retelling with a sense of ceremony and symmetry; the Oval Office preparation is carried out with humorously delicate grandeur, aides and entourage handling the pop star and the president with nimble ingenuity. The result is a subtle provocation. Shannon’s Elvis, in particular, comes off as a surprisingly nimble, self-aware political mind. Even though his and Nixon’s statuses in Washington were not equal, their influence — depending on who you asked — might be.
That makes Elvis & Nixon a movie about political celebrity — a subject of some interest lately, or hadn’t you heard. Had it come out in November, rather than April, we’d probably have said it’s a movie about an entertainer who wields his popularity like political authority, going so far as to con his way into the White House. Which, sure — but I’m thankful I caught the movie in April and can play naïve. Like the rest of this year’s finest films, Johnson’s movie has a thing or two to say about politics, history, representation — “important things.” But it’s not the kind of movie that can hold up under the joy-killing onslaught of our current cultural and political discourse. You wouldn’t single it out for its importance or instrumentalize it for its lessons: Elvis & Nixon, though still underseen, has been given a chance to simply exist.
Article written by K. Austin Collins – Staff Writer, The Ringer.
Excerpt from theringer.com
Photo courtesy of theringer.com