"He was my destiny. Right under my nose. In Memphis."
These words are spoken early on in Elvis by the slimy Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). The narrator of a story full of glitz and chaos, Col. Parker highlights all of Elvis Presley's famous ups and even more legendary downs. Dying at 42, Elvis was the King of Rock & Roll at a time when many venues didn't know what to make of the hip-thrusting Memphis wonder.
But we all pretty much know how this story goes: Born into poverty in Tupelo, Mississippi, and discovered as a country artist in Memphis but rebranded by Col. Parker as a rock and roller, movie actor, Army cadet, and cape-wearing pretty boy that shook his way to superstardom only to fall dramatically due to pill addiction and life on the domestic road. A headliner in Las Vegas in his later years, Elvis was pushed to the brink by his manager's demands and ongoing psychological manipulation.
Directed by Baz Luhrmann, Elvis is a dizzying look at the life of an American icon. Presented with Col. Parker as a lead character in Elvis' carnival life, Tom Hanks plays Parker as a P.T. Barnum-esque figure, fit with a mysterious past, crippling gambling habit, and an odd voice that doesn't exactly sound like Parker. The film starts messy in true Luhrmann fashion, as he repeatedly did with The Great Gatsby and Australia. But the mayhem on-screen perfectly mirrors Presley's real life, down to his marriage to Priscilla and desire to become an international superstar. Luhrmann mixes modern music with Elvis' hallmark crooning. The film doesn't shy away from the still controversial nature of Presley's moves and songs, which were heavily stolen from Black performers of the time. While Elvis thought of these songs honoring the Black churches he grew up with, the racial segregation of the times is emphasized as the movie moves through the 1960s.
The triumph of Elvis comes in the form of lead actor Austin Butler, who embodies the King from start to finish. Butler's performance brings life to an often cartoonish man, selling his soul to Luhrmann's trademark flash and flair. He sings some of Presley's earlier hits, while the real Elvis is subbed in for other performances. If not for Butler, Elvis might have collapsed before it set foot on the stage. Hanks' portrayal of the bizarre manager seems off, but the insistence on making Parker a lead character in the film often takes away from a biographical look at Elvis' life. While I enjoyed this Baz Luhrmann film far more than his more recent filmography, I was left wanting more from Elvis and a little less conversation about Parker.
Ticket rating: 🎟🎟🎟1/2