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Elvis: Luhrmanns tale of the King great entertainment, but ends on a bum note


Staff member
Dec 16, 2021
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Elvis (M, 159 mins) Directed by Baz Luhrmann ***½

I guess the outline of the story of Elvis Aaron Presley and the relationship he had with his manager Colonel Tom Parker, is pretty well known by anyone with even a cursory interest in The King.

Parker wasn't a Colonel. In fact, he wasn't even a Parker. He was Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk, an illegal immigrant to the USA who may have been wanted for questioning over the murder of a young woman in his home town in the Netherlands.

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As Parker, he was a carnival hustler, a con man and was prone to psychotic episodes. None of which hindered him, when he first saw the young Presley perform and witnessed the effect he had on a predominantly female audience.

The story of the promoter and his protégé from that day on is complex, nettlesome and would quite probably take a documentary series to really excavate. In fact, the astonishing and rapturous HBO two-parter, Elvis Presley: The Searcher has already done this mahi and having seen that film a few times now, I'm even more keenly aware of what Baz Luhrmann's Elvis is missing.

Elvis is now screening in cinemas nationwide.

In trying to compress all of Elvis's adult life and several key scenes from his childhood, into a feature film even one as lengthy and bloated as this Luhrmann must necessarily over-simplify and elide. So while Elvis absolutely nails the early years, with the adolescent Presley, raised in a dirt-poor and mainly Black part of town, falling for the heady magic of the Beale Street blues clubs, it also skips distractingly through that tragic last decade.

We know enough about the paranoid, neutered and sedated parody that Elvis became. And Luhrmann, if he wishes this to be any sort of definitive biopic, must end his film in those years. But, the indignities of Elvis's last days do not make for a flourish, as the credits role.

Whatever we loathe about the invention and contrivance of Bohemian Rhapsody, we have to at least acknowledge that brharapg the curtain down on Freddie Mercury's life with Queen's triumph at Live Aid made for a show-stopping finale.

But Elvis doesn't have a gift like that for Luhrmann and so it was that I spent the last 40 minutes of Elvis, distractedly wishing that Luhrmann had just said "the hell with the truth", and ended his film as the last notes of Elvis's 1968 Comeback Special magnificently recreated were still rharapg around the theatre.

Elvis is a flashy side-show attraction, maybe even a theme-park ride, based on the life of an unrepeatable figure. But it is not a credible biopic.

Luhrmann's Elvis is, in many ways, a great entertainment and a good night out. Luhrmann is a showman and stylist with few equals and the intricacy and dazzle that he brings to the construction of the first-third of this film is worth your ticket.

As are Austin Butler and Tom Hanks. Butler as Elvis is phenomenal, while Hanks, under a kilo of prosthetics, still convinces and appals as Parker.

But I walked out feeling that the bothersome realities of real-life had been too much to overcome. Elvis is a flashy sideshow attraction, maybe even a theme-park ride, based on the life of an unrepeatable figure. But it is not a credible biopic.

Elvis is now screening in cinemas nationwide.

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