- Movie Rating -

Elvis (2022)

| June 25, 2022

We are coming into a time now in which the ubiquitous nature of Elvis Presley’s life and career are beginning to fade from common knowledge.  The current generation is less likely to understand the impact that Presley wrought upon American’s conservative mid-century landscape, a landscape that demanded conformity on all things racial, sexual, musical and spiritual.  Having seen the excellent two-part HBO documentary Elvis Presley: The Searcher, I understand not only his impact on the culture, but the geography of his music, his performance style and the man that he wanted to be.

I wish that Baz Luhrmann’s new musical biopic had even one-tenth of that understanding.  Luhrmann is a stylist whose fast-moving choppy editing style overwhelms whatever he is trying to show us.  At times that works to Elvis’ story, showing us the effect that his manner of dance had on young teenage girls, which is a detriment when he is trying to tell a story, but largely distracting when just trying to establish a narrative.

For whatever reason, Luhrmann decided to have Elvis’ story told through narration by Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), the opportunist whose management of Elvis’ career limited his scope as an artist and demands on his client let him to work so hard that it led to his untimely death at the age of 42.  But why allow Parker to tell the story?  Maybe it was for a plum part for Tom Hanks who is so pancaked under heavy make-up that it limits his body language.  The role does him no favors.

Worse, the movie does Elvis no favors.  There’s a lot of spirit in Austin Butler’s performance in the title role, but the movie is so excessive that we have little time to get to know him.  There are the moments.  We see his early career.  We understand his relationship with his mother.  We understand his relationship with his audience.  But the movie never settles down enough to let us understand the man.  Butler is relegated to a stand-in for Elvis and we never feel that we are looking at the real thing.  He’s buried under an oppressive style, of angles and over-bearing lighting and fast-cut tracks of dialogue that we never settle down long enough to have a moment with him.

Truth be told, Elvis didn’t need this.  His electrifying stage persona, whether at the Louisiana Hayride Shows or on Ed Sullivan or the Comeback special, were so dynamic that Luhrmann’s flourishes just get in the way.  The movie tries vainly to incorporate the major influences on Presley’s style, of the black rhythm and blues that was being suppressed by the law of segregation that was being enforced by violence.  The screenplay leans more toward the negative impact that Parker had on Elvis’ career, but we never gain an appreciation for Elvis’ lasting legacy.  This is a busy, noisy film that never does no favors to his fading legacy or why it was worth preserving.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Drama