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Elvis Movie Review: A typically flamboyant bio-pic

Updated on: 24 June,2022 04:51 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Johnson Thomas |

For the film’s first half hour ‘Elvis’ is a revelatory nightmare fueled by capitalism and racism. But for most of the runtime, there are flashes of vibrant, beguiling entertainment

Elvis Movie Review: A typically flamboyant bio-pic

A still from the film

Cast: Tom Hanks, Austin Butler, Dacre Montgomery
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Rating: 3/5

Flamboyant filmmaker Baz Luhrmann’s bio-pic of Elvis Presley as seen through the complicated relationship with his enigmatic manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), has his trademark flourish of glitz, fantastic style, choreography and music - as expected from a movie about the King.

The icon’s story is revealed to us as the singer’s longtime, crooked manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) collapses in his memorabilia-filled office, and then awakens alone in a Las Vegas hospital room. He has been labeled a crook who took advantage of Elvis (Austin Butler), so he gets the opportunity to set the record straight.

For the film’s first half hour ‘Elvis’ is a revelatory nightmare fueled by capitalism and racism. But for most of the runtime, there are flashes of vibrant, beguiling entertainment. Luhrmann and co-writers Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner encapsulate beautifully on Presley’s many influences. They do well to explain how Gospel and Blues formed the basis of his transition to rock and roll. A sweaty performance of “That’s Alright Mama,” a performance of “Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton (Shonka Dukureh), the emergence of B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), Presley’s love for the superhero Shazam, and dreams about reaching the Rock of Eternity, are put-together with heft, color and panache. 

Luhrmann’s vision of Elvis is an overdosed play on sexual mores of those times. He shows sexually possessed, screaming women juxtaposed with visions of Butler’s crotch, in flashy, fitted pink pants – all shot in close-up. The use of expressive camera technique in terms of unforgiving zooms, rapid whip pans and highly suggestive visuals of sexual byplay lend authenticity to the Elvis era of music. We get to see Elvis’ meteoric rise and his ultimate descent toward self-parody. His mother (Helen Thomson) dies, his father (Richard Roxburgh) trembles and Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) does tragedy. In between we see performances of “Trouble,” and a soaring rendition of “If I Can Dream.” King truly comes alive with familiar hits as Jailhouse Rock, Blue Suede Shoes and Suspicious Minds.

The pacing is rather uneven and the complexity of Elvis’ life, tunes and times is never given the full treatment. Elvis’ physical decline is demonstrated by elaborate, garish and degenerating look, make-up and costumes. Biopic veteran, Hanks, heavy on prosthetics, fails to lend an edge to his potential menace. We do get the point that Parker is enamored by Presley because he is a white man who plays Black music but his evil never comes across in full measure. Hank’s niceness (image and personality) just doesn’t allow it to come through. Ultimately, this is Butler’s film. He may be the most unlikely Elvis but his sincerity and on-the-note, show-stopping performance keeps you invested all through!

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