• 02 Jul - 08 Jul, 2022
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

The movie follows Elvis Presley’s (Austin Butler) life from his teens, when he’s discovered playing alongside tired country music acts, to his final days as a bloated drug addict, so exhausted he can’t even hold his own microphone. That’s not where Baz Luhrmann stops. He also tells the story of Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), Presley’s manager, who is depicted as a scheming villain who never misses an opportunity for a buck and puts money before Presley’s happiness. And further aims to show how America changed during Presley’s career, from the ’50s to the ’70s, especially for Black people, who Presley both supports and exploits, casually pinching influences from Black artists. Trying to squeeze in so much, even over a 159-minute running time, it’s not surprising that much of it feels rushed.

Presley’s story is told on a soap-operatic scale, towering highs or miserable lows, and little between. The relationship between Parker and Presley feels underexplored, with the otherwise smart Presley just in dumb thrall to a man clearly manipulating him. In scenes about Presley taking songs from the mouths of Black artists, Luhrmann doesn’t give a single Black character a significant voice, a surely unintended irony.

Where Luhrmann absolutely excels, making some of the best work of his career, is in showing the addictive but destructive romance between Presley and his live audience. The performance sequences are a triumph. There’s a manic, sexy, almost dangerous vigour to these scenes, which tell us more about Presley’s inner self than the rest of the film.

Austin Butler is sensational as Presley. It’s a huge ask for an actor to disappear into a man so well known that everyone and his uncle does a bad impression of him. Butler convinces at every age, from teen to 42. He’s not a particularly close visual match for Presley but he’s mastered vocal inflections and imperceptible details in Presley’s moves on stage that mean he captures his presence. More importantly, he gives a sense of a person, with normal insecurities, beneath the public image. On the other hand, Hanks’ Parker is written cartoonishly and he plays it appropriately. It’s not realistic but it’s entertaining.

All in all, this is everything you might expect of a Baz Luhrmann biopic. It’s brash, loud, maximalist, and certainly never boring, but also keeps its subject at a distance, enthralled by his glamour not his soul.

– Compilation