Musical biopics have become so common these days that a director has to do something special to make his or her film stand out from the crowd. For example, the recent Elton John biopic Rocketman elevated it’s rags to rock n’ roll riches story with flights of fancy that enhanced each musical performance. In comparison Respect and Bohemian Rhapsody were saddled with clunky scripts that did nothing to bring any freshness to their subject matters of Aretha Franklin and Freddie Mercury respectively.
Fortunately the new movie Elvis has the style and panache of director Baz Luhrmann behind it which makes the film captivating even while acknowledging its more pedestrian elements.
Luhrmann tackles a lot in his retelling of the King of Rock and Roll’s life going from his time as a boy reveling at Black spirituals to his death in 1977. He also employs an unreliable narrator for the piece with Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, leading the piece played by Tom Hanks.
This is definitely one of Hanks’ slimiest roles and perhaps I have him too type-cast but I never quite bought Hanks in the role. It’s not a dealbreaker or anything but it felt like more of a caricature of a performance than a compelling character.
Austin Butler as Elvis is another story. He is absolutely captivating as the larger than life figure in pop culture. I wish the movie had taken the Walk the Line approach and focused on a small part of Elvis’ life but Butler is up for everything he is asked to do (which is a lot).
Elvis’ family has come out in support of the film and I can see why. It must have been an emotional experience to have seen your loved one portrayed with such grit and energy. If Butler isn’t up for an Oscar it will be a real shame as I found him to use the cliché to be a tour de force on screen.
For the most part the editing and flairs in direction Luhrmann uses to spice up the chain of events work especially when Elvis is on stage moving those hips (the movie comments a lot on women and how social morals stop us from experiencing pleasure so often. Elvis got that until he was required to be ”New Elvis” which he then rebelled from). Sometimes when Luhrmann used modern hip-hop music (as he is prone to do) it was distracting but over-all his style worked for me in the film and gave me something to pay attention to when the narrative was more by-the-numbers musical biopic.
A lot of time is spent on Elvis’ 68 Comeback Christmas Special where he featured the protest song “If I Can Dream.” I honestly think they could have ended the movie there and it would have been a triumphant and exciting end to the story but they go for the whole life approach and it’s mostly compelling.
There will be some who will complain Elvis is too basic but I disagree. I think Luhrmann brings a lot of personality to the production and Butler is outstanding in the lead. It’s worth seeing the film for those 2 reasons alone. One might say I couldn’t help falling in love with this film… (I couldn’t resist LOL).
7 out of 10
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