Elvis & Nixon (2016)
Getting the casting right in a biopic is more crucial to a film’s success than almost any other genre. If an audience is unable to accept an actor portraying an actual person, the entire project can be thrown off-kilter. Not that the actor needs to physically resemble the character. Leonardo DiCaprio was an unlikely choice for Howard Hughes, and Robert Downey Jr’s selection to portray Charlie Chaplin was met with considerable alarm. Yet both actors overcame such scepticism to turn in performances that enhanced, rather than detracted, from their biopics. Not so Michael Shannon.
Unlike the hilarious 1997 TV Movie Elvis Meets Nixon, which reduced the title roles to caricatures, this biopic attempts to find comedy in the situation itself. That being, shortly before Christmas 1970, Elvis Presley rocked up at the White House unannounced and later met with President Nixon to offer his services as an undercover agent.
In his performance as Nixon, Spacey manages to elicit laughs due in part to the familiarity his portrayal engenders. Yet with only a token attempt to look like Elvis, and no discernible effort to sound like him, Shannon’s lifeless performance stifles much of his scenes' comedic potential.
Though a mistaken impersonator assures Shannon he may very well be the best Elvis he’s seen, we can only conclude that for every DiCaprio and Downey Jr, there’s always a Keefe Braselle or Lindsay Lohan.
Elvis did not give the President a karate demonstration, nor did he partake in a hand slapping game with Nixon.
No scene recreations in this biopic. Instead we get a recreation of the photo that remains the most requested item from the U.S. National Archives.