‘Elvis’ review: Baz Luhrmann’s frenetic style overwhelms Austin Butler’s jaw-dropping role as Elvis Presley

‘Elvis’ review: Baz Luhrmann’s frenetic style overwhelms Austin Butler’s jaw-dropping role as Elvis Presley

Luhrmann’s most relevant credits include the visually arresting musical “Moulin Rouge!”, which offers obvious stylistic parallels. Yet the use of the exuberant and surreal aspects of this 2001 romantic fantasy clashes with the demands of a biographical film, drowning out the substance with fast, frantic editing that dulls the emotion of Butler’s one-off performance, which was adopted by Presley’s family and would be a showstopper if only given room to breathe.
Although Elvis Presley’s life has been documented in a variety of projects, the main precedent here seems to be a 1993 TV movie, “Elvis and the Colonel”, which focused on the relationship between the star and his manager/manager, Colonel Tom Parker, casting Beau Bridges as the latter. A colorful and dark figure, Parker’s control sparked allegations of serious financial shenanigans that were not revealed until after Presley’s death in 1977.

Here, Luhrmann (who shares screenplay credit with three others, nearly a decade after his last film “The Great Gatsby”) makes the near-fatal error of telling the story primarily from Parker’s perspective. This puts the spotlight on a heavily made-up Hanks — adopting an accent that can best be described as punitive — serving as the narrator and addressing the audience directly.

“I’m the man who gave Elvis Presley to the world,” boasts Parker, adding, “Me and Elvis were partners.”

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in

“Elvis” therefore kicks off at the critical phase when Parker enters Presley’s life as he launches his regional singing career. But Parker’s frame of reference has less to do with music — in fact, he’s largely indifferent to it — than with carnival attractions, almost salivating when he identifies the powerful effect Elvis’ gyrations have. on the women in the crowd.

While this still leaves room to chart Presley’s spectacular rise despite the creative and professional shackles Parker imposed on him, Luhrmann’s narrative approach does not really develop the characters, including, to some extent, Presley. himself. The scenes move by so fast that even Elvis’ wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge), his parents (Helen Thomson and “Moulin Rouge!” alum Richard Roxburgh) and a bunch of Memphis pals are checked out but barely recorded, despite a film that lasts more than 2h30.

Where does the time go? Much of it is dedicated to the meticulous reproduction of Presley’s performances, including a detailed presentation of his acclaimed 1968 NBC special, which gives Butler’s unerring mimicry a chance to shine. But efforts to contextualize Presley’s journey with events like the devastating 1960s assassinations and race relations are clouded by narrative blurring, which isn’t helped by glib dialogue like Parker saying, “Is it my fault if the world has changed?”

At a minimum, the film helps rekindle an appreciation for Presley’s talent that will have plenty of dusting off greatest hits collections and humming along to those classic tunes. Yet, as impressive as it may seem to see Butler come close to the King recounting something like “Suspicious Minds,” “Elvis,” the movie ends up getting caught in a trap entirely of its own making.

“Elvis” is released June 24 in U.S. theaters and is broadcast by Warner Bros., as CNN, a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery. It is rated PG-13.

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