Elvis may have left the building but Baz Lurhmann’s latest film burns with the intensity of a million-watt candle.
The main pitch of the movie is the relationship between Austin Butler’s Elvis and Tom Hank’s Colonel Tom Parker. Is his Colonel Tom a villain in denial or a vampire sweating in the presence of his biggest kill? Twinned with this theme is Elvis’s musical heritage. Brought up on black revival rhythms and sexually-illicit romp and stomps, the young Elvis enters into trance-like states, where his body shakes violently. Yet as the acceptable white face of black music this shaking instantly impregnates the first fifteen rows of unsure kids, turning them into hysterical screaming wrecks.
Yet watching him from the wings is Tom Hank’s heavily made-up Colonel Tom Parker. Realising that Elvis’s euphoric state is a contagious opportunity ripe for plucking, he then sets about plucking him vigorously.
... rocks you in a way that will have you thanking him very kindly.
And similar to this Baz Lurhmann’s other movies, this one does what you expect. As well as having a signature style for gaudy opulence and excess, Lurhmann still has a fantastic ear for integrating different music snippets with what is essentially a historical biopic.
That said, caught between its twin themes of financial abuse and a white America that’s afraid of black music, it’s really the performances that will draw you to Elvis. Hanks dependably pivots between being a profiteer and protector, however, it’s Austin Butler’s complete disappearance into Elvis that really takes your breath away. In a universe awash with Elvis impersonators and decent depictions likes Kurt Russell’s onwards, Austin Butler is Elvis and Elvis is him. Never for one moment do you even consider that his, is a performance that needs comparison.
If there is a concern, it is that the final act sadly fades away when it should have burnt out in a blaze of realisation and acrimonious excess. Instead, unsure what to place Elvis’s limitless energies, the movie settles for a de facto biopic ending complete with real-life footage with bullet points to tie up any subplots.
But never mind that. For a movie that I thought was going to be insufferably overbearing, Elvis rocks you in a way that will have you thanking him very kindly. Go see it.