Review: Austin Butler and Baz Luhrmann deliver a great “Elvis” | Culture & Leisure

Baz Luhrmann directs Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in new musical drama from Warner Bros. which follows the icon through his short life from his early days in Mississippi to his residency in Las Vegas and his descent into drugs and paranoia. AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr writes in her review that with “Elvis,” which hits theaters Friday, Luhrmann and Butler have created something gloriously messy – a maximalist opera of contradictions, styles, truths, myths, memories and titles that don’t explain, apologize or concern themselves with logic. “Elvis” is rated PG-13.

The brief life of Elvis Presley isn’t something that fits neatly into a conventional biopic formula, although many have tried. Perhaps it always took a director as wild and visionary as Baz Luhrmann to do something that evoked the essence of the King’s 42 years. Luhrmann knows better than to adapt a Wikipedia page when it comes to such a singular, larger-than-life star whose legend has only deepened and darkened nearly half a century later. his death. Plus, he’s found a perfect star in Austin Butler, who fearlessly embodies the icon without ever falling into impersonation.

With “Elvis,” which hits theaters Friday, Luhrmann and Butler have created something gloriously messy – a maximalist opera of contradictions, styles, truths, myths, memories and headlines. He does not explain himself, does not apologize and does not concern himself with logic. Dates and places, when communicated, often slip by unheralded in montages of newspaper or broadcast headlines. No one who does not already know the facts of Elvis Presley’s life will succeed in any anecdote around him after this film. He avoids or completely ignores some seemingly important things like the fact that he met Priscilla (given in depth by Olivia DeJong) when he was 24 and she was 14. His entire Hollywood career is summed up in a quick edit that ends with Colonel by Tom Hanks. Tom Parker saying in voiceover that “we had a lot of fun”.

Perhaps it’s because there are other moments that Luhrmann and his writing team deem more important – Elvis’ early acts of rebellion in defiance of local politicians, the death of his mother, the assassinations of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and John and Robert Kennedy, the 1968 leather comeback special and the golden cage of his Las Vegas residence, among them.

And yet, this nearly three-hour extravaganza that takes you from the cradle to the grave (and beyond) unfolds in a bubbly, glistening, sweaty flash that leaves you unsatisfied. It’s propelled by Butler’s transcendent portrayal of Elvis from age 17, capturing his almost overnight rise from skinny truck driver and occasional singer to world’s most famous man. Parker, Elvis’ controversial manager and promoter, may not have known much about music, but he saw what Elvis did to an audience with his proto-punk styles, gyrating hips and blending of country and R&B and knew there was money to be made. this child.

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The story is actually first presented as the morphine memory of Parker, who is dying in an austere hospital room overlooking the showy Las Vegas Strip two decades after Elvis passed away. Parker tells the audience that he’s not the bad guy. It’s surely his prerogative and probably something he believed to be true despite all the evidence to the contrary that this carnival peddler finally shattered his fragile star (or at least set him on the path to inevitable ruin) . And yet, the fact that even under mountains of prosthetics and a weird accent it’s still Tom Hanks with his endlessly empathetic eyes may make you question yourself, or why Elvis might have guessed himself. The artifice of her performance is set against the backdrop of Luhrmann’s theatrical storytelling.

Although the film is flimsy with biographical facts, it makes sure to bring Elvis’ influences on Mississippi and Beale Street to the fore. We see him soaking up everything from the sensuality of juke joints and rapture in the Pentecostal revival tents he saw as a child to the work of black artists like BB King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), Big Mama Thornton (Shonka Dukureh), Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Yola), Little Richard (Alton Mason), and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (Gary Clark Jr.) whom he would later see.

Everything is presented without comment, judgment or much introspection. Is it a cop? A choice? Is it daring for the public to draw their own conclusions? Either way, it’s at least consistent with a movie where “Dr. Nick” and his pills seem to pop up out of the blue. And, again, “Elvis” seems to be more about getting you emotional than about inundating you with facts and complexities around race and business in mid-century America.

Luhrmann never does anything halfway, but perhaps one of the most striking thoughts about “Elvis” is how restrained he is ultimately. It could have been a wall-to-wall Can-Can fever dream, full of glitz and dizzying camera movement. There is that, certainly. But Luhrmann and his collaborators reserve most of this chaotic energy for the stage, and more precisely for the person of Elvis. It’s as if the savagery of all of Luhrmann’s films erupts from Butler’s Elvis, through his hip and sweaty kicks and that beautiful booming voice.

“Elvis”, a Warner Bros. release. in theaters Friday, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association for “substance abuse, foul language, suggestive material and smoking.” Duration: 159 minutes. Three out of four stars.

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