Emphasis must be be placed on the director’s name, because Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is very much a product of its maker.
Elvis Presley was the king of rock n’ roll – a larger than life figure who captured the hearts of millions. Colonel Tom Parker was the old charlatan who “discovered” him and managed his affairs until the end. Their partnership is legendary and the myth of Elvis has continued to envelop popular culture since the artist’s untimely death at the age of 42 in 1977.
Promoted with a glamorous jewel-studded poster design, Elvis is the latest extravaganza from Aussie director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge), who has established himself as an auteur of decadence. There’s barely a skerrick of silence in any of his films, and the creed of “more, more, more” resonates beyond the reverberation of his director’s megaphone.
Tom Hanks plays Colonel Parker and he ushers the audience into his world, telling the story of Elvis from his own twisted perspective. From the singer’s impoverished youth living in Tupelo, Mississippi, where the sounds of African American blues music touched his soul, all the way to the penthouse suits of Las Vegas – and everything in between.
Lurhmann’s film is the myth of Elvis and those expecting an earnest and true account of his life will be sorely disappointed, because while it does cover the pivotal moments from his career – kind of like a Wikipedia account of things – it’s otherwise a musical odyssey. And once you surrender to Luhrmann’s brand of storytelling, Elvis is a wildly entertaining ride from start to finish.
Austin Butler (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) gives a career-defining performance as the King of Rock, with a turn that ought to silence his critics. With Luhrmann’s frenetic mode of storytelling stuck in hyperdrive, Butler’s embodiment of Presley is mesmerising. He commits to every frame of the film and puts every ounce of his energy into the role.
Butler’s likeness to the King is also quite striking, and Luhrmann captures particular moments of this uncanny resemblance with clever camera angles and whiplash editing. In fact, the moment when Elvis arrives in Hollywood is the moment that you succumb to the fable, because it just looks and sounds so great.
Tom Hanks’s performance, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired and the less said about it, the better. Suffice to say that his interpretation of Colonel Tom Parker is entirely fabricated and utterly preposterous. Not only does he look nothing like his real-life counterpart, he also conjures a terrible Dutch accent. One can only surmise that Hanks and Luhrmann were attempting to create a villainous persona, and he does indeed come across as a brilliant scoundrel.
That caveat aside, Elvis is a big and stylish extravaganza. The music is infectious and the majesty of the production is seductive. Shot entirely in Australia, local moviegoers will get a kick out of the countless familiar faces that are peppered throughout the movie – from main players like Olivia DeJonge and Richard Roxburgh to a supporting ensemble including Kodi Smit-McPhee, David Wenham, Luke Bracey and Dacre Montgomery.
Moreover, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is the perfect gateway for newcomers. There’s no doubt that the film will capture the imagination of an entire generation unfamiliar with the legend, and prompt them to consume as much of his work as possible.
In cinemas: June 23, 2022
Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann