Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis delivers a deliriously smashing ride. The story of Elvis Presley, the pop culture phenomenon, who married country music with Rhythm & Blues, is told in Luhrmann’s trademark eyeball-searing style.
If Luhrmann’s direction is one wheel of this glorious Rolls Royce of a movie, then Austin Butler’s performance as Presley, and Tom Hanks as his manager, Col. Tom Parker, are the other two. The fourth wheel is the story: the giddying stratospheric ascent, the sexy rebelliousness, the marriage and fatherhood, the addiction to prescription pills, the unrecognisable bloat and the crash, all of which happen alongside some of the biggest events in American history. The story of Elvis Presley is also the story of America in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
The clothes and soundtrack are an added sweetener to this already irresistible trip. The glittering rhinestones on capes, the monogrammed dressing gowns, the scintillating sunglasses, the sinewy scarfs… And who could have imagined a pink suit radiating that much raw sex appeal?
Opening in 1997 with Parker on his deathbed, Elvis goes back to the beginning when Parker was managing a country music act, and heard this new singer whose song is playing on radios all over town. When he is told that the singer is a white boy singing in the African-American tradition, Parker is determined to become his manager.
He does and puts Presley firmly on the path to success. While Elvis’ gyrations drive the youngsters crazy, they drive older people and the establishment another kind of crazy with worry at his corrupting influence. Getting conscripted into the army to escape a jail sentence, Presley returns to become a movie star. Marriage, fatherhood, a super-successful comeback, a long residency in Vegas and death at the age of 42 (from a heart attack) take us through Presley’s king-size life in the movie. All happening under the shadow of the Svengali-like Parker.
Butler is every bit Presley from his Cupid’s bow lips and his thick long lashes to the quiff; and boy, does he move! Hanks’ Parker is as far removed from caricature as Butler’s Presley. He makes it impossible to dismiss Parker as the villain of the piece. These two towering performances mean one might be forgiven for overlooking all the others, who are equally competent.
From Helen Thomson and Richard Roxburgh who play Presley’s parents, to Olivia DeJonge who plays his wife Priscilla, Kelvin Harrison Jr. as B.B. King and Alton Mason as Little Richard, they all breathe life into their characters.
One cannot speak of a Baz Luhrmann movie without talking of its music and here too, you have musicians including Doja Cat, Måneskin, Kacey Musgraves, Eminem, CeeLo Green, Stevie Nicks, Jack White, Diplo and Swae Lee doing covers and contributing original music apart from Butler’s superb rendition of Presley’s songs.
This is a movie you just can’t help falling in love with... and it would definitely not be a sin.
Elvis is currently running in theatres