by Ian Morton
Elvis is through and through a Baz Luhrmann directed film. From the moment the film begins, it’s dripping with style and pizazz and has an alarmingly addictive soundtrack, but as with many of his other projects there are certainly some pacing issues here and there. The good news is that the subject is interesting enough to keep you engulfed in the story, the bad is a runtime that may put a lot of people off.
As you would probably expect from the title, the story follows the life and times of Elvis, charting his influences and dissecting the elements of his life that contributed to his death at a young age. The IMDb labels the film as a biography, but given much of the narrative around the film so far, it may be a stretch, with Luhrmann even discussing his creative freedom with the project and the accuracy of events during the virtual reveal of the film.
Elvis side steps all but familiar critiques of the genre by telling the story from the perspective of Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s confidant and manager through almost his entire career, and the authority he commanded over the artist’s highs and lows. The film opens with The Colonel declaring his innocence in the events that led to the singer’s death and the story plays out like the shady manager’s memoir, a biography from an unreliable narrator intent on spinning yarns in order to best convince the audience otherwise. It’s very clever, as through The Colonel, it gives the filmmakers an intriguing ability to play fast and loose with fact and fiction and ultimately the freedom to tell the story in the way they see fit.
With this in mind, the story plays out like a live-action Disney movie – Elvis is the innocent light in the centre of the woods being corrupted by The Colonel’s ‘evil queen’ (prosthetic nose and all!) – and it’s here the film is most compelling, as much like fairy tales, it’s the lessons we take from them rather than how much the story sticks to the truth. It defines its focal characters as heroes and villains and tells a story about trusting the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’; a fable unfolding in real life. This ultimately gives the film a fantastical feel, a tale of rags to riches, good and bad, and it’s this that will keep your attention through its exhaustingly long run time.
The director is known for his signature, feverish style of filmmaking but it’s a style that struggles to sustain itself for nearly 3 hours. He attacks the screen with gusto, utilising frenetic editing to keep a high energy. This works when dealing with complex intros and dramatic montages but grinds to a halt in the more dramatic moments. These issues with pacing gives the film peaks and troughs, the third act particularly struggling to find its feet as it makes its way to the finish line. Luckily, the narrative is strong enough to get you through the low moments but not quite enough to stop your bum from falling asleep.
Easily the strongest parts of the film are the most confident; the soundtrack and performances. Elliot Wheeler is at the helm of the score and follows a similar composition to The Great Gatsby and Romeo and Juliet. Blending together Elvis’ back catalogue with modern performers freshens everything up, giving the film a contemporary feel that just keeps your feet tapping. On the performance side, it really doesn’t get much better than Austin Butler’s turn as Elvis. Unlike Renee Zellwegger in Judy or Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s surprisingly unshowy, adding a humanity to the character that feels fully developed and rounded. It takes a lot to upstage Tom Hanks but Butler manages it with a simple hip gyration.
At the end of the film we’re reminded of Elvis’s death at the age of 42. Given the god-like status the famed singer still commands, it almost feels too easy to forget just how young he was when he died. Despite its questionable length, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis does a fantastic job paying homage to the incredibly short time the singer had on earth and it’s as much a celebration as it is heart-breaking, fully deserving to be seen on the biggest screen with the loudest sound system you can.
Elvis is out in cinemas Friday 24th June!
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