Elvis Presley aka “The King” needs no introduction to audiences of a certain age, arguably setting the template for how a music superstar should behave in the future.
It’s difficult to imagine in 2023 the impact such a performance had on young minds in the 1950’s, both musically and sexually.
Instead of a band standing still, singing pleasant ballads, a young man dressed in a tight leather catsuit, gyrating around the stage, driving youngsters into literal hysteria.
Presley’s performances were considered “indecent” by the establishment, almost leading to jail time, how standards change.
To make any movie about Elvis, you need to find an actor capable and brave enough to portray such a larger than life, much imitated and universally known figure, no small task.
Director Baz Luhrmann, not known for shy and retiring films managed to find the perfect muse. Austin Butler (Elvis) is simply superb in the role, deservedly winning every award going, apart from the best actor Oscar, albeit nominated.
The film loosely follows Presley’s roots within deep south black church services where congregations are whipped into a state of religious fervour. Elvis cannot stand still and move he does, transported by the music into a personal frenzy of his own.
Immersed within the culture of black music & performers of the time, his first stage performance at Louisiana Hayride in 1955 starts with the usual nerves. However once he starts to sing and move, the audience is transformed and a star is born.
For every successful performer there is someone in the wings willing and able to monetise such lightning in a bottle. Enter stage left “Colonel” Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), small time huckster or “snowman”, slang for a conman.
The film is narrated by Parker, who was no real “colonel” and indeed did not possess US citizenship, contributing to his need to keep Presley based on home soil. Parker kept a tight rein on Presley’s career throughout, promoting his own financial fortunes, whilst mismanaging Presley’s.
Whether Parker was the villain the film portrays is lost to history, Presley’s remaining relatives spoke highly of him in later years. Presley did much to squander his own fortune, arguably setting the template for later music stars with extravagant tastes for the finer things in life, including private jets and large mansions (Graceland).
Unlike most of Luhrmann’s previous films, this reins back the chaos, following Presley’s career in loose chronological fashion. Ending in the depressing Las Vegas, bloated jump suit, alcohol & drug addled phase, regrettably now most remembered.
While Butler shines, the film is tethered by an unusual performance from Hanks, himself admittedly hindered by extensive latex. Striking a thoroughly dislikeable character, who feeds off the main show like a parasite, sucking the life blood from the golden goose.
The period detail and costumes are impressive with Butler managing to convey the physicality, singing and speaking voice as well as anyone could expect, the definitive performance.
Whilst the film does not completely hang together, there is much to enjoy and is well worth two hours of any movie or music lovers time.
The film is bookended with poignant real footage of Presley’s last performance, a voice still strong and true, before he “left the building” for the very last time
Thoroughly enjoyable with an Oscar worthy performance from the young Austin Butler in a film that delivers most of what is sets out to do, with director Lurhmann’s usual style dialled down to seven.