Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 39 min.
Release Date: June 24th, 2022 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Baz Luhrmann Actors: Tom Hanks, Austin Butler, Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Chaydon Jay
egendary” Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), the manager of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), narrates this tale, suggesting that he hasn’t been fairly represented – often accused of being a fraudster, of continuous mismanagement to the tune of an excessive cut of profits, and of dangerous gambling addiction. It’s even claimed that he killed Presley himself. Ostensibly, the villain is telling the story. “Without me, there would be no Elvis Presley,” he contradicts.
Beginning with Parker’s near-death, the story circles back to his earlier years, when he worked at a carnival, managed Hank Snow (David Wenham) and Jimmie Rodgers Snow (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and first heard the voice of Elvis on the radio – which he immediately knew could be manipulated and shaped into a success. The picture proceeds to jump around, back and forth, from year to year (in a matter of seconds) – practically chaotically – chronicling not only Parker’s involvement, but also Presley’s childhood influences and his various career-crafting performances. Not unexpectedly, writer/director Baz Luhrmann’s predilection for extreme style over everything else is also immediately on display.
“I cannot overstate how strange he looked.” With an inordinate amount of camera movements (and sound distortions), excessive cuts and artistic scene transitions (from twirls to slow-motion to split screens), titles and graphics intruding upon the frame, and flashing lights and vibrant colors, there’s nothing straightforward about the presentation of this larger-than-life biography. At the start, the ceaseless motion and the rapid-fire editing keeps the pacing swift; milestones and noteworthy events (including historical elements, ranging from civil rights causes and segregationist politicians to public interests and societal controversies – like Elvis’ wiggling hips and other lewd gyrations) zip by in lightning-like fashion.
“It was the greatest carnival attraction I’d ever seen.” Problematically, many of the supporting characters are overbearing, as well as Parker, taking the lead role even over the titular persona. No one here is particularly sympathetic or relatable, especially with the stratospheric stylization going on, though Butler does a fine job in his practiced impersonation. Hanks’ turn is largely uninspired; he may be wearing prosthetics and makeup and added weight, but this is far from transformative. He never feels as if someone other than Hanks in a fat-suit.
Nevertheless, some of the humor lands well, while the music is simply sensational. It’s always difficult to dismiss Elvis’ songs (alongside tunes and re-recordings from Little Richard, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Big Mama Thornton, and others of the era – mixed in with anachronistic, questionably-fitting modern artists) and his iconic dancing and costumes. His showmanship as depicted here is exceptional, entirely triumphant in sequences of rebellion and insubordination against his handlers, as well as during recreations of famous shows and specials. “I don’t know who that was out there! You were incredible!”
“I’m all out of dreams.” Ultimately, this biopic traverses the rise and the fall (and the rises and falls in between), covering Presley’s stint in the military, his marriage to Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge), his Hollywood accomplishments, his decline in popularity and relevance thereafter, his comeback, his Vegas debut, his physical exhaustion, his subsequent tours, and his drug use (contributing to, for the first time in two hours, a couple of emotional moments that highlight the personal and financial tragedies of his career and the consequences of being taken advantage of). Additionally, history (including Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and the deaths of the Kennedys) may be inextricably linked to Elvis’ time in the spotlight, but the decision to weave the two together with seemingly equal priority creates gaps and an absence of details surrounding the singer himself. The end result is a film that, despite its fast-paced visuals, can’t help but to feel ponderous and stuffed with superfluous components (principally among them a dubious narrative perspective); there’s just no reason for its nearly 160-minute runtime. But the music is fantastic.
– Mike Massie