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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Baz Luhrmann
scr Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner
prd Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Gail Berman, Patrick McCormick, Schuyler Weiss
with Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Richard Roxburgh, Dacre Montgomery, Xavier Samuel, Luke Bracey, Helen Thomson, Chaydon Jay, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Kodi Smit-McPhee, David Wenham, Alton Mason, Yola
release Aus/US/UK 24.Jun.22
22/Australia Warners 2h39
CANNES FILM FEST
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In his inimitable florid style, Baz Luhrmann crafts an involving biopic about Elvis Presley. Colourfully assembled with whizzy camerawork, effects and editing, the film is strikingly well-performed and features fantastic musical sequences. It also echoes the usual sad trajectory of superstars in the business from Judy Garland to Amy Winehouse, vividly depicting how successful artists are co-opted by everyone around them and pushed beyond reason to make money.
Growing up poor in Mississippi, Elvis (Jay then Butler) develops a love of local Black gospel and blues. As a teen he begins to discover his own voice, and manager Colonel Tom Parker (Hanks) takes him on a star-making tour. By the mid-1950s, he's on national television with a chart-topping debut album. Criticised for his sexually charged performing style, he spends two years in the military, meeting future wife Priscilla (DeJonge). But Parker controls his choices, insisting on hokey Hollywood movies and a gruelling Las Vegas residency, which he survives by increasingly relying on pills.
Of course, one movie can't include everything, so Luhrmann carefully crafts the narrative to follow Elvis' soaring career and grinding decline with a strong sense of internal emotion. While spectacularly recreating the period, Luhrmann assembles the film with several extended montage sequences while also developing a crisp, clear through-line that highlights the more introspective side of the story. This is expressed in a series of electrically charged musical performances.
In a breakout role, Butler holds the screen by channelling Elvis' haunted energy, letting the audience see feelings expressed through his powerfully emotive voice and elastic body. It's a remarkably loose-limbed performance, likeable even when Elvis is behaving like a monster. He has terrific chemistry with the excellent DeJonge, and Roxburgh registers subtly as Elvis' father. Hanks is superb as the larger-than-life Tom, although his meandering accent and extensive prosthetics, which are first-rate, are a bit distracting.
There's also a stream of wonderful cameo appearances that light up the screen with iconic musicians like BB King (Harrison), Little Richard (Mason) and Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Yola). More than period context, this adds texture to Elvis' distinct industry-shifting career, especially in his more socially engaged moments. And the film also takes some time to explore his personal relationships, both with Priscilla and with his mother (Thomson), father and Tom. Each of these people adds depth to Elvis' grim decline and death at 42, a particularly sad cautionary tale about a fabulous talent.
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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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