To say that the Australian Baz Luhrmann films and edits at high speeds as indicated by IndieWire in David Ehrlich’s review of Elvis is obvious. The biopic that Luhrmann proposes is frenetic, he never hits the brakes and it is something that should not surprise after knowing his filmography. Remember Romeo+Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Australia and even The Great Gatsby? In the only one that we could make a small difference, thanks to a more leisurely narration, was in his Strictly Ballroom, the debut feature that captured attention back in 1992 and that would become the initial kick for Luhrmann to access a source of resources that allowed him to consecrate himself, specifically with R+J and Moulin Rouge, the latter his greatest success.
Like it or not, Luhrmann is a director who has his own style, he has a mark. Watching one of his films, one instantly recognizes who is behind the camera, we can see his frequent failures, editing agility like a constant and uniform snap of the fingers, as well as his accomplishments. In fact, we could even say that with Moulin Rouge he modernized the idea we had of the classic musical. And it went well.
Now what about Elvis?
Elvis is a giant project, as big as the figure of Elvis Presley himself. I could go overboard with adjectives to describe what the film is and never cease, as Luhrmann has erroneously done. The duration doesn’t matter. Who except some influencer or child who has just entered this thing that is the cinema can be interested in the duration of a film when it grips you? Split The Irishman to see it in episodes and other nonsense…
Elvis fails in its conception, the decision to narrate it through Colonel Tom Parker’s viewpoint, who was his historical manager, is a mistake, as are the kilos of makeup used on the lovable Tom Hanks and his accent in the composition of the character. They recall the worst of his acting jobs such as that of Professor G.H. Dorr in Ladykillers. This error that everything revolves around Parker, eventually makes us go through Elvis’s life always returning to Parker, that is, disappointing us every certain period of revelry, sadness and explosion as Elvis’s life itself. Parker was a manipulator, player and is presented as such from the beginning, in which we will see that, according to the character’s own words, he understood little about music.
Luhrmann, in his passage with Elvis, also tries with a thick line to link Elvis with his black musical roots, also associated with racial conflicts, that is, to place a social conscience on the character. It’s kind of crude to present Elvis as a leader against a movement, or as having been charismatic, friend or whatever of B.B.King.
As in those films that stop at a specific period in the life of a notorious personality, Luhrmann decides to go for more and shows all or almost all of Elvis, from his beginnings, to meeting Parker, to becoming a musical and sexual icon, until being seen as a threat to youth and being sent to military service as well as his time as an actor in Hollywood and his time in endless presentations in Las Vegas. Elvis does not stop at the intimacy of the character.
Elvis also fails in not being able to generate in his dramatic moments something that really affects us: neither the death of his mother, nor his relationship with Priscilla, nor the brief minutes to meet Lisa Marie. This is how a film that shines in musical acts is presented, like a real roller coaster, in which there are more hectic ups and downs than stopping on flat ground, something that the film lacks. Not to mention the pointless split-screen decision that would make Brian De Palma weep.
If Luhrmann did something right here, it was to cast Austin Butler, this boy really puts his body into wanting to be Elvis and he achieves it. Outside of the poor scripting decisions and the temperance applied to his character every time the Colonel appears, Butler just kills it, providing a hip-rolling and phonomimic show that really brings his character closer to what Elvis was.
(Australia, United States, 2022)
Direction: Baz Luhrmann. Script: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner. Cast: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Dacre Montgomery, David Wenhan. Production: Gail Berman, Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Patrick McCormick, Schuyler Weiss. Lengt: 159 minutes.