Monday Movie: Elvis : review

Have you noticed how Elvis impersonators always tend to depict the hamburger guzzling, rhinestone covered jumpsuit wearing, bloated Elvis of the 1970s Las Vegas years? They almost never pick the svelte, gorgeous, hip swivelling, black quiffed Elvis of the 1950s and 60s who shook up the world, became the biggest selling artist of all time and arguably the greatest musical performer of all time.

In Baz Luhrmann‘s Elvis, Austin Butler gives his everything to channel the Elvis of each era and the result is phenomenal. 

It’s great enough when an actor captures the voice, mannerisms and moves of an icon. To help reincarnate the legend’s magical charisma and star quality is to take the performance into another league. Especially when that person was larger than life. And few stars have been bigger than or shone as brightly on the world stage as Elvis. At certain points of the film I had to remind myself that I was not watching the man himself but a young actor who wasn’t even born when Elvis died.

I have a pretty good track record of picking potential Oscar winners early in the cinematic year and I think  Butler will take some beating come awards season. He, in my opinion, is more remarkable as Elvis than Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury and Jamie Fox as Ray Charles and both those very talented men took home the Oscar.

The ever reliable Tom Hanks is suitably murky and Machiavellian as Elvis’ murky and Machiavellian manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker, a shady Dutchman who was neither really a colonel or Tom Parker.

The film is a frenetic telling of the Elvis story, from a poverty stricken Southern childhood to world domination, through the unreliable, self justifying and defensive account of the fake colonel.

There are minor quibbles; the film attempts to cover too much and so can’t give important parts of Presley’s life adequate attention, such as his marriage and its breakdown. As Hanks is the bigger star, his screen time as the colonel means that there isn’t time for a more in depth character study of Elvis, by Butler. So, Elvis the man takes a back seat to Elvis the performer and there are, therefore, only superficial insights into what he really wanted in life, what he truly felt and what demons plagued him. The colonel himself is presented, at times, by Hanks, as a pantomime villain, with only hints of what drove him. The film, overall, is sprawling as it covers not only Elvis’ life but also the changing times he was living in. Like Bohemian Rhapsody, it is also much sanitised but Luhrmann keeps the story moving at such a fast pace, sometimes with triple split screen stories within the story, that the sense of giddy excitement, heady success and glitzy decadence is never lost. The sumptuous, sensual, swirling kaleidoscopic indulgence of the film is all Baz Luhrmann. He was born to make this biopic and he rises to the rhinestone studded challenge with aplomb .

Ultimately, Elvis, the movie is a rocking’, emotional, glorious triumph, not only for Butler and Hanks but also Baz Luhrmann. 
the campaign for best actor, best director, best film, best costume design awards starts here!

Update: Like many, I just had to see the movie again, not least because there’s so much going on in each scene and so much to process that the first viewing is just enough to follow the curve of the story. There was an older man, maybe 70 or so, on his own. He was across the aisle from me. During the breathtakingly brilliant sequences for the 1968 Comeback special and the Las Vegas montage, I couldn’t help notice the utter joy on his face. Then, with the heartbreaking final scenes, he sighed with the emotion of all his years.

And that is why, I don’t care what earnest powerofthedogshapeofwater films are thrown up for the Academy to consider for next year’s oscars. Austin Butler, Baz Luhrmann and everyone on this film deserve ALL the awards!

my video from the London premiere

At the time of writing the film is performing beyond expectations at the US box office in its opening weekend. I’ve already come across people who are seeing it for a second time and plan to see it again and again. 

I will go see it again too. There’s just too much in it for one viewing.

I recommend it to you with huge enthusiasm.
The footage of the real Elvis at the end and the power of that incredible voice (even as he was just 60 days from his death at only age 42), alone is worth the ticket price.