It’s loud, exhausting and annoying, but it’s also sheer brilliance and mastery at times. What a mess of contradictions.
In the 30 years since Baz Luhrmann made his way onto the art scene with Strictly Ballroom, every Australian has an idea of what kind of experience they are in for with a Luhrmann project.
It gets brutal and irreverent like Romeo and Juliet or extravagant and emotionally big like Moulin Rougeor it will be unashamedly exaggerated and mannered like The Great Gatsby†
Whatever Luhrmann does, there’s a thick gloss of Bazian glitter and overindulgence, and your miles for it will vary.
There’s a good chance you made up your mind about Luhrmann a long time ago and there’s nothing on Earth that can keep you away or come anywhere near Elvisthe visionary filmmaker’s latest spectacle.
Elvis is classic Luhrmann in many, many ways. It’s unrestrained, exuberant, demanding, aggressive, generous, luxurious, raging, explosive and exhausting – sometimes all at once.
Luhrmann always makes big choices, and all those choices scream off the screen.
There are aspects of Elvis that’s cinematic mastery and there are other parts that are bilge. It’s a jumble of contradictions and also… just a jumble.
It’s story unfocused, the characterizations are wildly inconsistent, and some of the cinematic choices are mind-boggling. But while it can be overwhelming and unforgiving, there’s real genius in the noisy overall package.
From the moment the King of Rock and Roll was discovered to the end of his life, Elvis‘ highlight is easily a revealing and pulsating performance from Austin Butler. The young American actor is simply phenomenal.
Presley is one of the most impersonated characters in the world, so the challenge has always been to bring something into the role beyond impersonation. It’s not enough that Butler can put out a tune with his deep, soulful voice, or that he can dance and twirl with an unstoppable verve that stirs frenzy – and he does.
Butler, Luhrmann and co-screenwriters Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce and Jeremy Doner have created a version of Presley that is thoughtful, layered and above all human.
Butler captured the essence of a Presley that digs much deeper than icon status – this is a character who exists outside the stage and the cameras, away from the performative aspects of his life. He and scene partner Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley are magnetic and their sexually charged chemistry hisses.
When on screen, Butler owns every inch of the frame. It’s a mesmerizing twist, one that transcends recent Rami Malek and Taron Egerton biopic renditions, and it’s hard to see how Elvis doesn’t make Butler one of the most interesting talents of his generation.
Priscilla Presley has said that Butler’s interpretation of Presley is “excellent” for a reason.
The same can’t be said of Tom Hanks’ Colonel Tom Parker, the play’s flat, one-note-spinning villain. In a rare misstep by Hanks, it’s a caricature, not a character, and there’s nothing resembling nuance.
Colonel Tom Parker is a major reason why Elvis can be so annoying. The character is the one who frames the film and his voice-over narration accentuates every scene. It’s like a plague that wants to swat you away so you can go back to the Butler performance.
This is the conflict within Elvis† There are always multiple parts vying for your attention. You want to look at Butler, but have to put up with Hanks. You want to bathe in Catherine Martin’s great production design and costumes, but you have to fight your way through Luhrmann’s dizzying direction to appreciate it.
Elvis is a film in which you have to work, removing all Bazian distractions to get to the emotional, surprisingly grounded core of the man in the circus. But it drags you down until all your energy is used up.
Of course, you don’t get that Butler performance or the intoxicating intensity of some of the most feverish scenes without Luhrmann’s unique instincts as a director. As with any manic, cacophonous Luhrmann production, take all the annoying flaws with the brilliance.
Elvis is in the cinema
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