Movie Review: Elvis
Hail to the King
4 / 5
Elvis Presley is more than a person. Ever-surrounded by carefully curated hype, he existed (and exists to this day) as an inhabitant of some sort of unattainable fairyland, who could be summoned to a stage in a flash of bejeweled cape, the King of Rock and Roll, only to vanish when the clock struck midnight. Still entrancing, he remains the top-selling solo recording artist of all time; 50 million Elvis fans (and counting) can’t be wrong.
The otherworldly nature of the King’s persona puts this biopic right in Baz Luhrmann’s wheelhouse. Luhrmann also makes a very clever (and absolutely correct) choice of frame: while Elvis is the star, the whole film is narrated by Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis’s lifelong “manager” and first-rank dirtbag) who speaks directly to the audience as part of a deathbed hallucination. So what we get here is an unreliable narrator (the villain, even) telling the story of a larger-than-life entertainer as envisioned by one of the loopiest directors working; it goes from zero to Moulin Rouge almost immediately. And it doesn’t skimp on the music, though again it’s got that Luhrmann flair. There are plenty of showstoppers (Austin Butler owns this role), but at several important moments the songs fly apart and come back together in new forms, including rap sampling. It illustrates Elvis’s syncretic music style via a modern analogue, and makes his life and struggles very current-relevant. The film is marvelous.
It’s also huge. The movie has some draggy spots, and it has a zoom-in-zoom-out pace that can be confusing if you don’t have a basic knowledge of these events already. Some characters, particularly in Elvis’s personal retinue, are introduced quickly but then never developed enough to help us remember anybody’s name. But the low spots just make the high spots truly sing (and there are some amazing high spots). 50 million Elvis fans (and counting) can’t be wrong.
4 stars of 5: I liked it, and would watch it again.
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