Elvis (Baz Luhrmann, 2022, Australia/USA)

Baz Luhrmann's first film in nearly a decade, Elvis lives up to its marketing. The film is a standard issue biopic in Luhrmann's signature style - frenetic, chaotic, constantly shifting between modes and styles, fusing music from the past and present. As a sheer spectacle, it is hard to deny Luhrmann's talent - this is a truly theatrical film. Yet the core of the film is Austin Butler's performance as Elvis. Taking on such an iconic figure is no small feat, but Butler manages to not seem like he is merely doing an Elvis impersonation. He channels the man in terms of both his stage presence, voice, and physicality in an uncanny way.

The narrative framing device centers around Elvis's manager, Colonel Tom Parker (who was neither a colonel nor a Tom), a Svengali-type figure who ended up bilking Elvis out of a huge fortune due to his gambling debts. Tom Hanks dons a fat suit and accent for the role, something unusual for the actor whose main selling point is his "normalness". This framing device is perhaps the film's central misstep, as it always keeps us at a distance from Elvis's interiority. Luhrmann is interested in making a grand statement about the battle between art and commerce.

The film is at its best during the various musical set pieces, particularly Elvis's Christmas special, which was a great success and helped to revitalize Elvis's career after a period of irrelevance. At almost three hours, Elvis feels long but is never really boring. Another of the film's weaknesses may be that it is simply too ambitious - some aspects of Elvis's life, such as his relationship with Lisa Marie Presley and the death of his mother, seem to be almost entirely glossed over. Overall, however, Elvis is a tasteful and fitting memorial to the icon. 



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