Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann established his reputation for gaudy extravaganzas like Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby. Now he’s tackled the life of Elvis Presley, the gyrating “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” who changed the world of music, along with contemporary pop-culture.
Don’t for a minute think this is a bio-pic. It isn’t. Luhrmann discarded historical accuracy in favor of a grotesque carnival of fictionalized glitz and glamour, tracing how Black singers B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), Little Richard (Alton Mason), Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Yola Quartey), Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (Gary Clark Jr.), Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (Shonka Dukureh) and Mahalia Jackson (Cle Morgan) inspired Elvis.
The deliriously melodramatic story is told by promoter Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), who first spotted Elvis (Austin Butler) in 1954 at the Louisiana Hayride, where the naïve, nervous singer with locomotive hips electrified the audience.
Initially enlisted by the exploitive Colonel to join country crooner Hank Snow (David Wenham) and his son, Jimmie Rodgers Snow (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Elvis soon became the headliner.
When he was criticized for his gyrations, Elvis’ adored mother Gladys (Helen Thomson) assured him: “The way you sing is God-given, so there can’t be nothin’ wrong with it.”
Biographical inaccuracies abound. Elvis didn’t sing “Trouble” at that 4th of July show in Memphis; it was written for his movie “King Creole” (1958). And revisionist Luhrmann evades the fact that Priscilla Beaulieu (Olivia DeJonge) was only 14 when Elvis met her in Germany in 1959.
As for scheming Col. Parker, he was neither a colonel nor named Tom Parker; Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk came to the US from the Netherlands without documentation when he was 20, adopting a Southern accent and claiming to be from Huntington, West Virginia.
Baz Luhrmann and co-writers Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce & Jeremy Doner concocted the exhausting, episodic screenplay, while the live performance sequences are superbly captured by cinematographer Mandy Walker with production design/costumes by Lurhman’s wife/collaborator Catherine Martin.
Daring Austin Butler delivers an amazing Elvis impersonation, while Tom Hanks – camouflaged under mounds of latex – epitomizes the creepy con-man who specialized in ‘snow jobs.’ Costing an estimated $85 million, the 159-minute film was approved by the Presley family/estate.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Elvis” is a spectacular yet strangely sad 7, now playing in theaters.
Baz Luhrmann, Kelvin Harrison Jr.,Alton Mason, Yola Quartey, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, Shonka Dukureh, Cle Morgan ,Elvis Presley, Col. Tom Parker,Tom Hanks, Austin Butler