Baz Luhrmann returns to the big screen to try and tell the story of one Elvis Aaron Presley. Will audiences find themselves All Shook Up or will be checked in to Heartbreak Hotel?
To many Elvis Presley was larger than life itself. An inspiration, an icon, a hero. Now every hero needs a villain and this story is told through the eyes of the man who many (rightly or wrongly) cast as the villain… Colonel Tom Parker.
Played by Tom Hanks under a mountain of protesthics, he is truly a grotesque character. Forget Colonel Parker, Hanks looks like a man who has dined out on too much of Colonel Sanders fried chicken. Painting himself as a victim on his deathbed, he tells us his version of events in the rise and fall of The King.
One did not expect to draw comparisons with Elvis’s story to Guillermo Del Toro’s remake of Nightmare Alley but here we are. When Parker first visualises himself preparing to sell Elvis on the idea of becoming his manager, he sees Presley standing in a fairground in front of a sign for The Geek.
Now in Carnie terms, the geek was somewhere between man and beast, a man who would chase and kill live chickens in front of a crowd for their morbid curiosity and entertainment. The Geek was usually kept drugged up and manipulated into their performances by the owners.
As Parker seduces Presley with promises of fame and fortune, one can practically hear Willem Dafoe setting out the story he uses to reel them in as he pours them an opium-laced shot. “It ain’t much but it’s a job, right? Course it’s only temporary. Just until we get a real geek.”
Just like how Parker had his fingers firmly dug into Elvis, one can see and feel Luhrmann’s fingerprints all over the film.
Director Baz Luhrmann’s production credit at the start of the film states “A life lived in fear is a life half lived”. There are certainly no half measures here. Not one single thing is subdued or understated here. One’s tolerance for the in-your-face, OTT theatrics will greatly depend on your enjoyment of Luhrmann’s previous efforts. This is unequivocally the work of the director of Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby.
Similar to later-day Elvis, the film is hyper-stylised, over-produced and on the bloated side. The mistake Luhrmann makes is to try and tell Elvis’s whole life story. This type of biopic has been done to death and successfully lampooned to death by Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. A film in which “Elvis” himself made an appearance.
By narrowing down the timeframe, trimming some dialogue scenes, heightening the musical numbers and tightening the runtime, it could have been vastly improved. As the man himself might have put it, “A little less conversation, a little more action please”.
Having said that, the film does deliver this in spades in the final act (of the film and Elvis’s career) as it delves into his infamous Las Vegas residency at the International Hotel. These fateful five years alone could have made the subject of a thrilling movie. This is where everything comes crashing down for The King. His crumbling relationships with Parker and Priscilla ultimately deciding his destiny.
It is sad to watch a man capable of so much, as showcased by the assembling of his band sequence and Suspicious Minds number, used and abused by those around him. It is not difficult to draw parallels between Presley and Britney Spears’s recent case surrounding her conservatorship. Herself set up with a draining Vegas residency by her team.
A sad business but one person that is certainly taking care of business is Austin Butler. Having impressed in a small turn on Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, it is fair to say a star is born here. One might have wondered if an actor could perfectly capture Presley’s swagger and charm? Well, the Butler did it. Even putting his own vocal spin on the classic numbers. Between this performance and Taron Egerton’s turn as Elton John, it makes the Academy’s decision to reward Rami Malek for lip syncing his way through Bohemian Rhapsody even more absurd.
Luhrmann clearly has a deep Burning Love for The King and wanted to deliver the definitive adaptation of his story. However by trying too hard to tick off all the major events in his life, it ultimately falls short. An entertaining look at the man, the myth, the legend but one that is unlikely to be Always On My Mind.
Elvis is in cinemas from June 24
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Stars: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Richard Roxburgh
Runtime: 160 minutes