Review of 'Elvis'

When Baz Luhnmann turns his hand to any film you know you are going to see a full-on explosion of riotous colour and sound on the screen. “Elvis” is no exception with the trademark (tacky) “Elvis” glitz applied even to the familiar film studio logos shown in the opening seconds. The frenetic pace of Luhnmann never really lets up though the screen trickery dies down towards the end…as does Elvis.

“Elvis” is the story of Elvis Presley's (as an adult, Austin Butler, as a child, Chaydon Jay) career beginning with his early life fascination with “negro” music including soul and gospel with a scene here of him sneaking into a travelling “revival” show tent as a child dressed as his favourite superhero. Having released some songs via the iconic Sun Records he is spotted by circus showman “Colonel Tom Parker” (played admirably by a seriously aged Tom Hanks) who sees the music industry as just another form of “snow” - a show or fantasy to deceive the masses for profit. Parker sees how Elvis changes when he is on the stage, utterly given over to the audience the music. Parker quickly arranges to be Elvis' manager alongside Elvis' mother Gladys (Helen Thomson) and father Vernon (Richard Roxburgh) with Elvis signing on to the much bigger record label RCA. As the money pours in Elvis spends lavishly on his friends and family with the purchase of a house and copious numbers of cars. This fame is not without a price with various groups seeing his gyrations as pornographic and, worst of all, contrary to the “race relations act”. Despite Parker's advice to the contrary, Elvis follows his heart and is pariahed by many in the mainstream though his fame continues at a pace until he finally scores a long-term residency at the new “International Hotel” in Las Vegas never travelling abroad despite his desire to do so at the urging of Parker who, as it turns out, has a secret of his own…

Ultimately this is both a celebration of the greatest rock-and-roll star ever and a tragedy of both greed and decline. The music is amazing with Butler reportedly recording many of the songs himself and though not entirely matching the perfect good looks of the original Elvis seems to capture something of his soul on the screen. The story itself is amazing and quite incredible to see unfold with Elvis' sky-rocket to fame only fading with financial ruin and trapped in a never-ending series of shows at the International Hotel which would eventually kill him bringing to mind the long-running series of “This is It” shows planned for London that led to Michael Jackson's death (of which I am, I suppose, partially responsible having purchased tickets for one of the shows).

What comes across clearly in this film is that Elvis gave everything in his performance and music with little notice taken of other things leading to the end of his marriage with Pricilla (Olivia DeJonge) and his ever increasing distancing of himself from reality eventually leading to his demise. In this it is the viewpoint of narrator Parker, who is on his deathbed reflecting on Elvis' life, who clearly states it is “simply business” throughout delivering to Elvis all he ever asked for: Fame and fortune. In this Parker is little to blame for Elvis' death but is shown to hugely profit from his career, pragmatic to the end. Hank's Parker is very much an enigma otherwise, observant but otherwise dispassionate participant in events as they unfold.

An interesting and enthralling story of the king of rock and roll told by one of the most dynamic director's of our age - It may not be 100% authentic with dips into hip-hop and rap on occasion, but it manages to capture the spirit and tragedy of the legend. Moving and powerful.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2022-09-04

Directed by: Baz Luhrmann

Studio: Warner Bros.

Year: 2022

Length: 159 minutes

Genre: Melodrama

Other reviewed films by Baz Luhrmann: