Baz Luhrmann directs Austin Butler, Tom Hanks and Olivia DeJonge in this rock’n’roll biopic following The King and his symbiotic relationship with oily Svengali, Colonel Tom Parker.
Over the top, grating, messy, disorientating, cheesy. And I loved it far more often than I hated it. The first 90 minutes really thumped along to its own crazy beat, the second half does hunker down and try to be an ounce more traditional. But this is a rare biopic with a well formed “villain of this here piece”, which grants us more tangible shape than most musicians’ life stories – where the crisis are more existential. The metric it works towards is Forman’s Amadeus and it is an apt lift. And even though the unashamed blockbuster is a heartfelt celebration of Presley, it never feels like the “authorised version.” There’s no Bohemian Rhapsody style hamstringing, axe grinding and concessions to the surviving band members’ take on history don’t stink the room out. This just wants to lionise with flair and rhinestone sparkle The King in its own frenetic, fucked up way. Elvis is inarguably pure Luhrmann, his finest since William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. Special shout out should go to Catherine Martin’s glorious recreations of all the fashions and costumes. And it is a folly, but one that always grips, keeps you hooked, tapping your toe, struggling to focus. Butler is grand casting, the spit, a star is born. Hanks is doing his own thing, the only work similar in his back catalogue is his deep fried turn in the Coen Brothers’ The Ladykillers. If you like what he does here then more power to you, I’m not sure I can condone it, but at least his scratching, clawing take makes for a hissable antagonist. In a movie full of big mad swings, his interpretation on Colonel Parker is the wildest. The whole thing is as bonkers as hippos on a bouncy castle, neon fried gold. This energy makes Elvis easily the most watchable rock icon biopic since Walk The Line. In an era when even the best big releases feel like product, here is some art, a personal vision. Sure, that personal vision is gaudy and eccentric, the art is more likely to appear in a tat shop than the Tate, but it is bloody nice to witness a multiplex crowd enjoy something so naff and idiosyncratic.
Perfect Double Bill: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
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