From the start, Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet, The Great Gatsby) resumes his classic alcoholic style: throwing you into nauseating rollercoaster visuals, cut together with the hallucinatory flow of a fever dream.
After flashing forward to the King himself, unconscious in an ice bucket before one of his Vegas concerts, the film thrusts into his childhood. You see his humble home life, growing up in a Southern black neighbourhood and absorbing the various music styles around him. Notably, the controversies around white appropriation are ignored.
Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker. Photo: Warner Bros.
But despite the title of the film, its narrator is the suspicious and capitalistic manager Colonel Tom Parker. It’s a rare role of moral deplorability for Tom Hanks, especially in a more enlightened time when exploitative managers of famous musicians are being called out. The Colonel only grows more loathsome and opportunistic as the story continues, so he’s a strange choice for the guiding voice.
Curiously, co-writer Craig Pearce also penned the much-superior Danny Boyle series Pistol (dramatising the rise of the Sex Pistols) and both stories feature debilitating stage fright as well as radical music for that time. Elvis finds its strengths in the latter: the performer's signature wiggle gifting the 50s with the sexual awakening it needed. The women go screaming mad. The Colonel calls it the ‘taste of forbidden fruit’.
Luhrmann creates appealing thunder from these orgasmic revelations. He crafts a more exciting storm when conservative politicians, standing in front of Confederate flags, scrutinise and repress Elvis for breaking segregation laws. Like the 'f*** you' attitude of Pistol, these moments lend Elvis a revolutionary thrill. If only there were more of them.
After reaching its zenith of ecstasy – when Elvis is sent to the army and then pushed into movies – the film feels obliged to explore every part of his whole laborious saga. Watching him perform in the continuum of the mega-famous inevitably deflates and disappoints, given the allure of the struggle that came before it.
Luhrmann and his writers seem determined to stretch these scenes wafer-thin, throwing up numerous subplots (including Elvis’s relationship with Priscilla) that scatter like an overcrowded flock of stories. A four-hour cut of the film apparently exists, and the mere idea of it contributes to the nausea. By the third act, you really struggle through the burden of the runtime. It just keeps going on and on and on, incorporating Elvis's final shows in Vegas when he was pumped full of drugs to go on stage… as ordered by the Colonel.
It’s a vomit-inducing haze, one in which you’re begging for The End. And when you think The End is nigh, 'ONE YEAR LATER' fades up with depression. Luhrmann falls into the line-up of recent male auteurs like Wes Anderson (The French Dispatch) and Christopher Nolan (Tenet) who are given too much creative power. Elvis is strike three: these directors need to be stopped.
Elvis will be in UK cinemas on Friday 24 June.
|What||Elvis movie review|
24 Jun 22 – 24 Jun 23, IN CINEMAS
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