New Greetings from the Dark. On August 15, 1970, two of America’s greatest recording artists met for the first time.”Director Liza Johnson tells the story of the collision of worlds – an Oval Office meeting with President Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley. Of course, this is a fictitious and satirical count, since Nixon began his passion for recording only the following year.
It would be easy enough to beat the Film so hard on cheese and easy on historical accuracy, but that would miss the point. These two public figures could not have been very different, but the script (Joey and Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes) finds a way to get these two icons talking … which, beyond their mutual hatred, unites the Beatles.
The grandiose opening sequence perfectly captures the period and is a work of art in itself. First we see Elvis pulling the tubes in Graceland’s TV room. He is disgusted by the news about Woodstock and medicine use among young Americans. Elvis builds a wasteland to meet with President Nixon and offer his service as a large-scale Federal Agent, and is primarily interested in adding a federal badge to his collection.
Michael Shannon plays Elvis, and Kevin Spacey plays Nixon. Rather than a finely tuned Imitation, Shannon follows rather an impression or reinterpretation of the king. It fits perfectly with this attitude, and there is nothing better than watching Shannon perform a spontaneous karate demonstration for the leader of the free world in America’s most famous space. Spacey, meanwhile, is just to capture the attitude, mannerisms, sound and essence of a man who, with his political power, carried a lot of personal baggage.
The chain of events that lead to the meeting plays a bit like a Farce comedy. Nixon employees Bud Krough( Colin Hanks), Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters) and HR Haldeman (Tate Donovan) becomes equally incredulous and opportunistic. We have two members of Elvis ‘ Memphis Maphia with Alex Pettyfer, who plays Jerry Schilling, and Johnny Knoxville, who adds even more humor than Sonny West. There’s a nice mix of “little” comedy moments and real laughs – Elvis impersonators confronting him at an airport, the secret Service reaction to Elvis’s gift to Nixon of World War II collectible pistols, and Elvis’s experience with a DEA official played by Tracy Letts.
I found myself smiling everywhere, fully understanding that this satirical look at a meeting between two famous men with little in common has no real historical significance … except it leads to the most requested photo of all time from the National Archives. But for 86 minutes of smiling, I tell the filmmakers and actors … Thanks.