Another Take: ReelBob: ‘Elvis’ ★★★
An imperfect and glitzy look at the life and career of Elvis Presley as told from the perspective of his devious and manipulative manager, Col. Tom Parker.
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Up front, I admit that I never was an Elvis Presley fan. Growing up in New York, my musical tastes were focused on doo-wop, the British invasion groups — The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Rolling Stone — and Motown acts such as The Temptations and Four Tops.
Plus, I never cared for the movies Elvis churned out in the 1960s.
So, going in, I had no emotional investment in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis.” I went to see it because I was curious to see Tom Hanks’ turn as Col. Tom Parker, Presley’s Svengali-like manager.
My reaction to the movie was mixed. I enjoyed the performance of Austin Butler as Presley but could not fully wrap my head around Hanks’ portrayal of Parker. Parker was a smooth-talking conman who controlled Presley professionally, financially and emotionally.
He was a devious, despicable huckster who used Presley as his personal ATM, which he gambled away in Las Vegas casinos.
Hanks, though, cannot go as dark as he should in his presentation. He still exudes hints of the Hanks likability and charm that has made him one of the most popular actors in the world.
Plus, we learn nothing about Parker’s personal life. He simply exists to cling to Presley like a barnacle.
And that is a detriment to Luhrmann’s movie.
“Elvis” is a flashy, entertaining movie with glitzy sets and garish costumes.
Butler acquits himself as Elvis, especially in the performer’s early years. For the most part, Butler does his own singing. It is only in the latter part of the movie, in which Elvis is performing in Las Vegas, that the vocals of the two are blended.
Butler captures Elvis’ early rebelliousness and charisma, but he also displays the innocence, naivete and need for a parental figure that gave Parker the opening to exploit him. His Elvis is a tragic figure who, despite wanting to be his own man, remains Parker’s puppet on an exploitative string.
Like the majority of Luhrmann’s films, “Elvis” is excessive at times, with frenetic editing and dazzling cinematography. In a few instances, Luhrmann overloads our senses.
Luhrmann, however, does not present a standard biopic. He is showcasing an Elvis in the prism of a mid-1950s to late 1970s America, and how Elvis fit into the cultural shifts of those times.
At first seen as a menace to teenage morality, he morphs into a family entertainer, then a has-been and finally an iconic museum piece who attracted to Las Vegas older audiences who remembered him from their youth.
The director mostly tells the story from Parker’s perspective as he is the movie’s narrator, offering his insight about how and why he decided on many aspects of Presley’s career. This makes for a self-serving and imbalanced picture of Elvis, diminishing the singer’s contributions to American music and culture.
For all its imperfections, including a 159-minute running time, “Elvis” is an entertaining movie. It has more glitter than substance, but Luhrmann’s obvious affection for Presley and his place in Americana is the engine that drives this colorful chronicle.
I am a founding member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. I review movies, 4K UHD, Blu-rays and DVDs for ReelBob (ReelBob.com), The Film Yap and other print and online publications. I can be reached by email at email@example.com. You also can follow me on Twitter @ReelBobBloom and on Facebook at ReelBob.com or the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My movie reviews also can be found at Rotten Tomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
3 stars out of 4
PG-13, substance abuse, language, smoking suggestive material