Elviswritten and directed by Baz Luhrmann (Red Mill!, Gatsby the magnificent) features familiar flashy editing, sometimes pushing the story through glitz rather than substance. Luhrmann takes a lot of story and at times the film goes overboard but still remains intriguing and enjoyable at 2 hours and 39 minutes.
The first repetitive narrative we encounter is that of Colonel Tom Parker, played by an almost unrecognizable Tom Hanks. In the opening scene, we meet him as a sickly old man, complaining that history has blamed him for mishandling Elvis’ troubled career. He wants us to know “his side”.
Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, and his family suffered from extreme poverty, but were rich in spirit, devout followers of the Black Pentecostal Church of Reverend WH Brewster in Memphis.
As a young man, Elvis divided his time between church and nearby Beale Street, where he experienced a different understanding of the spiritual freedom of music, rhythm and blues, and the power to express with his body what which could not be said at home or in church.
The screenplay unravels the conflict between these dissonant influences with compelling and compelling success. Young Elvis was hungry to lift his family out of the bondage of poverty, and music gave him the creative license to eliminate his inhibitions in the process.
Luhrmann makes several attempts to credit the black Beale Street musicians Elvis impersonated to stardom: BB King (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (Gary Clark, Jr.), Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Yola ), Little Richard (Alton Mason), Big Mama Thornton (Shonka Dukureh). They welcomed Elvis and helped shape the enthusiastic student in their image.
Beale Street breathed soul into young Elvis, which was essential to his success. The film shows Elvis would return there several times to seek advice from his Beale Street family when things got tough.
Elvis, the obsessed, ambitious and star-studded musician dominated the first half of the film. As expected of Luhrmann, the production is massive, filled with flash and color, maximizing our senses with every performance.
Luhrmann often tears us away from intimate scenes with micro flashes forward or back, as if to say that the sum of Elvis Presley’s life stretches the limitation of any scene far and wide. Flashbacks remind viewers that the film is about the rise and demise of an iconic musician. If you’re hoping to stay in the moment with Elvis the Man, you might be missing out.
The hanging bangs and good looks of Austin Butler help create a striking resemblance to Elvis Presley.
Hanks and Butler share a strange on-screen intimacy that was both complicated and tragic.
During a pre-release interview with People, Butler revealed that at the start of pre-production, Hanks sent him a typewriter from his personal collection. In the chrome typewriter was a letter from Hanks as Parker to Elvis. Butler responded in kind and together they had multiple in-character matches, thus crystallizing their relationship, the backbone of this angled story.
Butler’s voice and portrayal of Elvis’ stage presence were spot on, especially since Butler had never performed in public before.
And any review must discuss the actor’s crotch and butt, which Luhrmann apparently found cinematically irresistible.
There were 100 crotch kicks too many, surpassed only by images of screaming, hormone-crazed women of all ages and their escorts left in the dust. Simply put, Elvis was not popular with male social gatekeepers.
Sometime in 1956, young Elvis was summoned before a judge in Jacksonville, Florida, who threatened to arrest him for “damaging the morals of minors”. Here, the film takes artistic license and portrays Elvis as strong-willed and resilient, pushing as usual and getting into trouble. In reality, Elvis was center stage, disgruntled, and performed those six Jacksonville gigs without his signature moves.
Enter Parker, again intriguing on how to maximize his financial exploitation of Elvis’ career.
We are never happy to see him. It was clear that the risk of censorship would have meant a serious loss of income for Parker. When Elvis was drafted in 1957, at the peak of his career, Parker enthusiastically encouraged him to serve, expecting Elvis to return as a mature man. , clean, less sexually provocative version of himself.
Despite multiple offers from the Army to be a recruiting role model or to entertain the troops, Presley chose to serve as a regular soldier. He saw active service with an armored division near Frankfurt, Germany.
While he was away, his mother died of a heart attack. Their relationship was the emotional anchor of Elvis’ formative years. She was his North Star. Between active duty and the loss of his mother, Elvis returned a lost man.
The second half of the film is a somewhat more intimate exploration of Elvis, his growing self-awareness, and his apparent helplessness in the face of Parker’s exploitation. As vibrant with glitter and flash as the first half was, the second half follows Elvis through the arc of the story to darker places, while preserving the obvious truth of Elvis’ remarkable talent and his place in the world. history as an artist.
His performances were always breathtaking, but Elvis’ ability to control his career was slowly diminished by Parker’s manipulation of when, where and how often Elvis performed.
Driven by greed, Parker overbooked Elvis whenever he could. It was nearly impossible for Elvis to keep up, especially given the stamina needed to achieve the showmanship his audience expected. Elvis was regularly backed up with prescription amphetamines from his traveling “team doctor”. We are shown early in the film that Elvis was genetically addictive. In 1973, his marriage to Pricilla Presley ended, although they continued to co-parent their daughter, Lisa-Marie.
As his career sunset, Elvis knew Parker was an impostor and he tried to find a new direction, but Parker’s paternal influence on Elvis remained strong.
There, we enjoy the onscreen intimacy between Hanks and Butler, as we come to understand the emotional hold Parker had on Elvis. In the end, Elvis realized that Parker had never been the father figure he posed as. We saw Parker’s despicable exploitation of Elvis early on, but not Elvis.
The last scenes of the film are surprising and spectacular. Kudos to Luhrmann’s apparent self-awareness of his limitations. Elvis is a historic and relevant film, worth the money and worth the heartbreak.