Review: ‘Elvis’ Movie Depiction Might Have Shaken You All
For a real-life figure as mythical and magnanimous, as legendary and revolutionary as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, it should surprise no one that the first full-scale production on the life of Elvis Presley cost $85 million. to produce and broadcast nearly three hours. What co-writer-director Baz Luhrmann achieves with all that time and money is a truly bold, thoughtful, and introspective look at the man behind the headline-grabbing dance moves.
If it’s good enough to get Priscilla and Lisa Maria’s approval, you know there’s magic on screen and it’s mostly thanks to the overwhelming power of Austin Butler, who slips into these blue suede shoes with the confidence, look and corresponding mystique to make audiences wonder if he is, in fact, the real deal from the grave. In short, Butler is a hunka hunka hot with sexual attraction. If that wasn’t enough to make you scream on screen, Butler also sings, and all of the film’s music from Presley’s early career comes exclusively from the actor. As the film progresses, his voice is merged with the King’s recordings until it’s nearly impossible to tell who is who.
What will make or break your thoughts on “Elvis” though, rests with Luhrmann himself. You love it or you hate it; the sentiment rarely falls between the two. Known for the highly stylized musicality of his films like “Moulin Rouge!” and “Romeo + Juliet,” Luhrmann puts this biopic over a flame and lets it melt into a deliciously fluid amalgamation of the singer’s past, from his childhood in Mississippi to his recording career in Memphis, culminating at his historic residence in Las Vegas. Years and scenes slide past each other and jump in time.
Perhaps the greatest feat of Luhrmann’s film is that it provides incredible context for Presley’s rise to fame. It may come as a surprise to audiences unfamiliar with the climate of the late 1950s, precursor to the civil rights movement of the following decade, but Elvis was heavily influenced by the African-American soul singers who frequented Beale Street in Memphis, colloquially known as the home of the blues. “Elvis” gives great credit to these black singers, both household names like BB King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Little Richard (Alton Mason), as well as lesser-known artists who have had an indelible impact on music. from Presley, a point underscored by blending his exposure as a boy living in a “black” Tupelo neighborhood with his early performances and the songs taken directly from that community. Not only does he sing their music, but he shakes and squirms like he watched his local black preachers do in church.
It is this impact, felt by both white and black communities, that the film seeks to capture. Elvis, with all his talent and smoke-show looks, was swept away by the craze of loyal young fans, and he quickly became political. His nickname ‘Elvis the Basin’ prompted advertisers to threaten boycotts if he didn’t tame his act, which eventually led to two years service in the military in return for a restoration of his healthy image. .
Like some of Luhrmann’s other works, “Elvis” is framed by a lesser narrator who gives us insight into the story’s undercurrents and allows the timeline ultimate flexibility. For this particular project, this format helps retain the sparkle of Elvis – that iconic, more than human quality that Elvis embodies post mortem as a god, a legend and, in many ways, a caricature of himself – same.
Tom Hanks takes on the most ambiguous accent of his career (at first it’s hard not to hear Michael Scott’s “Mykonos” character, IYKYK) in a devilishly dirty portrayal of Colonel Tom Parker, longtime manager of ‘Elvis, business partner and promoter who notoriously did misguided business and, as is obvious to many, took advantage of Presley for extravagant personal gain. Hanks, decked out in prosthetics, make-up and a comical gait, is the film’s pilot, just as Parker led Elvis’ brand through controversy, ridicule and, ultimately, back to center stage. .
As usual, Hanks quickly falls into the lustful snake of a character that is Parker, straying from the kind and benefactor type we’re used to seeing him portray. Parker is not only the film’s villain, but the mirror through which Luhrmann can show the audience that was not the case. just Parker who worked Elvis to death, but also, metaphorically, the general public. Parker was a reflection of what society expected of Elvis. If he wasn’t touring and working and selling merchandise, Elvis was relegated to Christmas specials on cheap TV to support his wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) and young daughter, not to mention the dozens of free-loading entourage members waiting for cars, drinks, and full access to Graceland. Everyone wanted Something of Elvis, and he finally killed the rock icon.
Those looking for a purely historical and straightforward biopic will be disappointed. “Elvis” is far more interested in capturing the essence of its titular star, not the essential facts of his life. The opening scene, a melodious introduction to Parker as “Snowman”, as he proudly called himself, has the camera sweeping his room as he lies dying, his voiceover eagerly explaining that we don’t know nothing of the truth about Elvis. Audiences don’t get a foothold before we’re sent back in time in a whirlwind of sights and sounds that, for a moment, make this film feel like it will be told exclusively in music video form. Luckily, Luhrmann slows things down, and after teasing Butler before his big onscreen introduction, the character’s full picture is revealed with complete clarity. There are obvious omissions, mostly to condense time; not that the film understands brevity, but Luhrmann chooses to dwell on the most interesting and defining moments of Elvis’ life and career in order to convey the very specific and indescribable feeling that the King imprinted on those who were lucky enough to witness his meteoric rise.
With Butler on screen and Luhrmann behind the camera, the King lives.
“Elvis” is in theaters now.