Film scores

Soundtrack review: Elvis & Nixon (Edward Shearmur – 2016)

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On a December morning in 1970, the King of Rock ’n Roll showed up on the lawn of the White House to request a meeting with the most powerful man in the world, President Nixon. “Elvis & Nixon” follows two men at the height of their powers, conscious they could not stay on top forever, both ripped with fear of the inevitable, sharing one famous private moment in the Oval office. When the King of Rock’ n Roll (Michael Shannon) showed up on the White House lawn to request a meeting with the most powerful man in the world, President Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey). He had a very urgent request: to be sworn in as an undercover Federal Agent at large. This intimate moment in the Oval office between two men at the height of their powers has never been told. Edward Shearmur wrote the score.

It’s not easy to write a score like or to write about a score like this. Sure the story at hand could have been treated seriously and dramatically but I’m sure that’s not what the film makers where going for. They went for the comedic lightweight effect and the composer had to follow that path as well. I usually have a difficult time connecting with a score like this not because of the music itself but because I can’t find any instances where I might want to return and use this music to enhance a state of mind, reflect on something or get over something. Edward Shearmur wrote a fun and bubbly comedic score with moments of jazzy smoothness or short bursts of big band energy and the occasional guitar motifs. This score works and could have worked on a number of different stories and comedies; there’s nothing connecting it with Elvis, or Nixon.

What the music does connect to is the decade the story takes place in. The score breathes the 70s with their electric guitars and funky beats. I imagine this as the music that could play in the background in a lounge where the two characters might meet for some event. The focus would be on their conversation while the music would be used as extra punctuation marks for some of their words or gestures. I’m sure this type of score works great in the context of the movie. My favorite cue was “Jesse” which had a hint of “Love me tender” in it and the soulful melancholy of a country sunset.

Cue rating: 69 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 1 / 19

Album excellence: 6%

Highlights:

Jesse

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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