‘Elvis’ Review: Austin Butler Is a Great Impersonator, But Baz Luhrmann Doesn’t Capture the Complex King

The first shot of Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” isn’t Austin Butler in the titular role, or blue suede boots: it’s a charming gift shop snowman-shaped snow globe, seen only for a moment, Before Luhrmann took us inside his glass. Sad story, Rosebud-style.

That’s because the film is about Elvis’ manager, the disgraced Tom Parker (Tom Hanks)—the “snowman” dusting everyone off with money—as it is about Elvis. Parker managed Presley for most of his career, later being prosecuted for mismanagement and possibly guilty, with the film declaring the singer’s “financial misconduct”.

Parker and his harsh snowglobe, his Elvis Christmas specials, his Vegas abode and carnival attitude towards art all reflect that the name Elvis has been teased for advertising: Elvis impersonator, vibrato, “thank you, thank you, many thanks,” neostyle Sunglasses and jaw-high rhinestone collars—things that are not Elvis, but a critique of the subliminal commercialization of his icon.

At the end of the film comes another moment – the emotional climax – where Elvis tries to get himself out of Parker’s claws. They face to face. Parker tells Presley that he cannot end their business partnership, as their finances are inextricably linked – but so are their fortunes. Parker isn’t just the man behind Presley; Presley Parker. Both the north and south poles are on the same globe. Subtext: Presley exploited black music on his way to fame, and Parker exploited him.

But that subtext is too subtle to feel intentional in a Luhrmann film. Maybe if that scene felt like an intentional genius, then incidentally, the movie wouldn’t be one of the better composer biopics of recent years (and it’s easily better than “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Rocketman”). ) – That would be a great movie.

Anyway, “Elvis” is a grand tragedy, a film mixtape with a sonorous performance at its core, perhaps Luhrmann’s best since “Romeo + Juliet” (1996) and perhaps his most postcard-perfect film to date. .

But it has a rubbery script, a difficult length, and a key issue that plagues many musical biopics: It’s not really certain what he thinks or wants to say about Elvis. wants to show it Where Did King’s Music Come From – Black Musicians – but doesn’t want to offend King’s fans.

As it is, the film shows American Black culture as the source from which Elvis draws his superpowers, but the siphoning he comes across as morally neutral. Black characters comment on their musical appropriation with a shrug or can’t-help-but-love-you gaze. The result is an Elvis who doesn’t dare to be complicated; An Elvis that Elvis fans don’t need to think too much about.

It seems the exact opposite when, in the end, actual footage of Elvis appears on screen and one is reminded of the simple, honest Elvis: the Elvis who popped his collar as he self-immolated about his thin neck. was aware; Who memorized the lines of James Dean in childish idolatry, and wanted to be Marlon Brando. There is very little of Elvis in this.

Not that any of this prevents Butler from making a powerful impression that Luhrmann’s maximalist mind probably envisions like Elvis. (The director must have been 14 when Elvis died; Butler may not have been born yet.)

“Elvis” is like seeing a good Elvis impersonator, not really seeing the king himself.

“Elvis” ★★★ (out of four)

With Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJong. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. 159 minutes. PG-13 rating for substance abuse, harsh language, suggestive content, and smoking. Opens in multiple theaters on June 24.

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