REVIEW — “ELVIS”
From visionary director Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby), comes ELVIS: a frantic, sexy, colorful, and mesmerizing fever dream of a musical that you can’t look away from.
Featuring captivating performances, brilliant costumes, and a mix of charming mash-up covers and contemporary music, the dramatic biopic pays tribute to the iconic King of Rock ‘n Roll while painting a deep and extensive portrait of Elvis’ struggles with pressure, loyalty, and addiction.
Possessed by the spirit of The King, Austin Butler is completely magnetic as Elvis Presley. Like Jamie Foxx’s Ray Charles or Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury, Butler delivers more than an evolving impression. It is a possession. With every breathy drawl, lip curl, and hip thrust, he becomes The King. And living legend Tom Hanks is nearly unrecognizable as unscrupulous manager, and film narrator, Colonel Tom Parker—the snowman to Elvis’ showman.
Beginning at Parker’s 1997 Las Vegas deathbed before darting to his carnival-barker days in 1955 Texarkana, the film wildly jumps back and forth across time to highlight pivotal moments in Elvis’ career. We see his revival tent roots in 1947 Tupelo, Mississippi where he first felt the Holy Spirit move from his hands through his hips and down to his heels, as well as his first time performing in 1954 Memphis.
In one of the film’s most entertaining scenes, Elvis, clad in a bright pink suit, nervously approaches the mic before belting out an arena-engaging number complete with wiggles and gyrations that arouses primal urges in each screaming young lady in attendance. This is when Parker first meets Elvis and sees what he is capable of. With dollar signs in his eyes and drool running down his chin, Parker dig his claws into his golden ticket destiny and proclaims Elvis to be “the greatest carnival act he’d ever seen.”
Parker soon invites Elvis on the road, wedges his way in between Elvis’ momma (Helen Thomson) and her devoted son, and convinces the crooner to jump to RCA records for more opportunities that include national shows, television appearances, merchandising, pink Cadillacs, and lavish new Graceland homes.
ELVIS also tracks the controversy that plagued the beloved musician’s early career. During a time of national upheaval, fearful and bigoted men of power who wanted to shut down Elvis’ seemingly provocative and rebellious act and put this hound dog on a leash. While Elvis clearly appropriated the swagger, sounds, and lyrics of the great gospel and rhythm and blues artists he admired, he certainly was talented in his own right and had his own distinct, yet marketable, style that helped to open many white ears to the sounds of other cultures.
In an effort to break racial barriers and be true to himself, Elvis chose to spit in the face of convention and embraced the soulful Black musicians who inspired him. Versions of influential real-life artists like B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), Little Richard (Alton Mason), Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Yola), Arthur Crudup (Gary Clark Jr.), and Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (Shonka Dukureh) cross Elvis’ path throughout the film to help inspire and guide him on his journey.
When Elvis is drafted to the Army and stationed in Germany in 1958, Parker sees it as an opportunity to rebrand the singer’s image from a perpetrator of “crimes of lust and perversion” into a clean-cut, all-American hero. While Elvis meets his future wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) during his time overseas, the worry over her son’s safety sends his mother into an alcoholic and fatal spiral. Parker again pulls Elvis in closer, using the singer’s empathetic struggles to secure Hollywood film roles in the 1960 before trapping him in a 1970s Las Vegas residency at the International Hotel.
It is there where Elvis, fueled by drugs, bedecked in rhinestone-bedazzled jumpsuits, and surrounded by Memphis Mafia hangers-on, is run into the ground by a greedy, gambling-addicted, and deeply indebted Parker. Forced to work like a caged animal, Elvis becomes increasingly exhausted, resentful, paranoid, and strung out until it all comes crashing down.
Luhrmann takes care of business by delivering a powerfully tragic, showstopper of a film, particularly during Elvis’ moving, televised, black leather-jumpsuit wearing, 1968 Comeback Special. Like The King himself, both Butler and ELVIS are a sight to behold. All I can say is thank you, Baz. Thankyouverymuch.
Rated PG-13 with a running time of 159 minutes, ELVIS opens in theaters June 24, 2022.