Who better than to make a biopic about Elvis Presley than Baz Luhrmann? It is a huge undertaking, one that many directors would have made boring. Luhrmann brings glittery, frenetic energy to the tale of an American icon who was betrayed by the man closest to him.
The film starts with Colonel Tom Parker (played by a miscast Tom Hanks) as an old man wandering Las Vegas whilst speaking of how he was made out to be the villain in the life and death of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler). Then, we are thrown back in time to Elvis’s childhood in Mississippi, and then on to Memphis where Elvis was inspired by jazz and gospel music in his surroundings.
After Tom Parker discovers him, he offers to be Elvis’s manager. Over the next few years, Elvis takes American culture by storm helping an entire generation of teenage girls to find their sexual awakening. In Elvis’s later years, after buying his family Graceland and serving in the Army to avoid jail time, Elvis longs to tour internationally. Parker convinces him to stay in Las Vegas instead.
We all know how that ends. After five years of drug addiction, loneliness, and threats of debts being called in, Elvis dies of a heart attack at the age of 42. A tragic end to a short life.
The musical numbers are amazing. This is truly a rock opera. The kind of film you can sing along with while it unfolds. The costumes. The hip shaking. Austin Butler’s lips. You can’t look away. It’s a horny, energetic flurry of love and heartbreak.
My only two issues; 1. Tom Hanks is miscast. 2. Luhrmann glosses over the fact that Pricilla was only 14, and Elvis 24, when the two met in Germany while Elvis was serving in the Army. While they ended up married and genuinely loved each other, I would have preferred at least one comment about the inappropriateness of the age difference at the beginning of their relationship.
That said, Elvis is a fast-paced musical told with empathy and love. Luhrmann tells us there is a four hour cut of the film. I, personally, hope he releases it as a director’s cut. I’ll gladly watch it. Until then, Elvis is playing in theaters and it should be seen on the big screen. And someone give Austin Butler an OSCAR already. His performance is stellar.