Elvis – Film Review
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge, Luke Bracey, Natasha Bassett, David Wenham, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Samuel, Kodi Smit-McPhee
In cinemas June 24th
Unlike many rock biopics such as What’s Love Got To Do With It, Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocket Man, director Baz Luhrmann decided that his subject’s name alone, rather than one of his biggest hits, was iconic enough to suffice as a title. Although he’s had the big screen treatment before and has been played by numerous actors (including Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer and Jack White), Luhrmann felt that there was still more of Elvis’ story to tell, so this spin on the King’s life focuses on his complex relationship with his manager Colonel Tom Parker, who is played here by Hanks while Austin Butler has the arduous task of filling Elvis rather large, blue suede shoes.
From his earliest days at the bottom of the bill on Fairground stages to his meteoric rise to fame, his movie career, marriage to Priscilla and his final years playing Vegas, Luhrman takes the audience on an odyssey through Elvis’ life in his usual highly stylised way. Even if you knew nothing about this film, five minutes in you would recognise this as a Luhrman movie. It is a kaleidoscope of colour and frenetic shots as it lurches through the decades. Perhaps if this were about any other artist his whimsical style might seem over the top but Elvis is such a larger-than-life and almost mythical figure that it seems appropriate.
Of course, no amount of stylish directing can compensate if the material is thin. Elvis lived such a fantastical existence that Luhrman was spoiled for choice as to what to feature, and he also perfectly cast Butler who, despite the daunting task of playing one of the most famous men who ever lived, keeps his cool and does a superb job. I didn’t live through Elvismania so, like many, I only know him from TV and movie appearances and retrospective biographies, but Butler really seems to have nailed his tics and quirks (and indeed has the approval of the Presley family). He is mesmerising in the role and will definitely be a contender come awards season. Hanks, on the other hand, is somewhat distracting as Colonel Tom Parker. Buried underneath layers of latex and with a questionable accent he gives a solid performance but it is sometimes hard to see beyond the make-up. If you didn’t know Parker had existed in real life you might think that Luhrman had created him as he is so panto-esque.
Like all Luhrman movies, this is dazzling and flashy. You walk out of it astonished by the spectacle, but much like a sugar high, when the amazement wears off there are elements of this that don’t stand up to scrutiny – such as the parts of Elvis’ life that Luhrman chose to leave out or gloss over. Apparently, he has a four-hour cut that covers pretty much everything but this two-hour forty-minute version does erase key moments that are well known in pop culture history even if you’re not an Elvis aficionado. It also never really scratches the surface of what drives him to succeed – bear in mind that there was no blueprint for him to work off, he was effectively the first rock star.
This is very much a love letter to The King. At a time when his cultural impact has probably diminished slightly, this is sure to reintroduce him to a whole new generation of fans. The music is still wonderful and is given a new lease of life here, as Luhrman also includes contemporary interpretations. If you like breath-taking spectacles, then you’ll love this. If you’re looking for an in-depth examination of a complex man you will probably be disappointed. Either way, this will leave you with a smile on your face and the songs stuck in your head.
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