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Elvis Review

By ASEEM CHHABRA
June 24, 2022 17:09 IST
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Elvis is a missed opportunity, notes Aseem Chhabra.

Baz Luhrmann is a master showman and everything he has touched so far -- Strictly Ballroom, Romeo+Juliet, Moulin Rouge! and even the sometimes overcooked The Great Gatsby -- turns into gold.

Well, almost! Because he only partially succeeds in his new venture Elvis.

And it is disappointing, since a biopic about Elvis Presley -- the second largest selling artist of all time (The Beatles take the top position, with Michael Jackson at number three) -- is a golden story that needs to be told with the King of Rock and Roll's spectacular performances, the drama in his life and the ugly truths, from the women, weight gain, to drug abuse.

 

Luhrmann's Elvis, staring Austin Butler as the rockstar and Tom Hanks as his manager Colonel Tom Parker, is a fine film when it tracks Presley's life starting with his childhood spent playing with African American children and listening to the singers in their churches in Tupelo, Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee, the two cities that defined his music and performances throughout his career.

Presley's initial performances shocked white conservatives from the South but immediately electrified a new set of fans, mostly young white women.

As Parker says in the voice-over, Presley's sexually charged, hip swinging, gyrating moves and his voice created 'feelings (in the young women) they didn't know they were supposed to enjoy.'

He adds: 'They could have eaten him alive.'

Naturally, the white conservatives are not thrilled.

Presley is threatened with jail time unless he stops using 'lewd gyrations of sudden jerky moves.'

But Presley was called the king for a reason.

He did what pleased him, what connected him with his audience.

Fans of Luhrmann's previous films will not be disappointed with the bright colours, the lights and especially the showy camerawork that glides over and around the large ensemble cast of characters that populate the film.

The cinematography is the work of Mandy Walker, an Australian camerawoman who has also shot Mulan (live action), Hidden Figures and Luhrmann's 2008 romantic drama Australia.

Where Elvis mostly falters is with Parker's character.

Tom Hanks with his prosthetic makeup, which reminded me of Sean Penn's makeup in the recent series Gaslit, feels quite stiff.

We hear his voice, but his face looks like a big mask with frozen facial muscles.

In a film about Presley, the main character is Parker -- the man who claimed to have made the singer into a huge star and was accused of finally destroying him.

Hanks is one of the best Hollywood actors of his generation, but he almost holds back the film.

It does not help that most of the film is narrated by Parker in a voice-over that gets quite tiresome after a while.

Butler, who started his career with the Hannah Montana series, then did a lot of television and some film work, is a good choice to play Presley.

There is a definite facial resemblance and Butler is terrific when he holds the mic and swings his hips in the musical performances.

In narrating Presley's story, the screenplay by Luhrmann, Sam Bromell and Craig Pearce covers a lot of ground, although it sometimes jumps key points of the singer's life.

Most of Presley's hit songs are checked for the film's soundtrack, including In the Ghetto (which appears with the end credits), Heartbreak Hotel and Can't Help Falling in Love.

We learn a lot about what happened in and around Presley's life, including his recruitment in the army when he served in Germany from 1958-1960 and his career as a Las Vegas singer.

There are key losses America experiences including the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the death of Mahalia Jackson in 1971.

But at some point, the film -- clocking at 2 hours and 39 minutes -- begins to feel a bit long.

The soul of Elvis Presley is missing here. And often, we cannot tell what is happening in the mind of Presley.

Elvis is a missed opportunity. I expected a lot more from Baz Luhrmann.

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ASEEM CHHABRA / Rediff.com