Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis’ featuring Austin Butler is completely exhausting

Baz Luhrmann has never been recognized for his cinematic innovation, so let’s say here that with Elvis he pioneered the first film to consist exclusively of montages from beginning to end. All the Greatest Hits of the edit are here: truckloads of newspaper headlines; a large wheel that turns into a rotating disc; a succession of screaming audiences from one city to another; concert posters signifying the growing notoriety of Elvis, in which his name rises to the top of the bill; money and trappings of fame. Luhrmann’s fondness for this hackneyed technique is just a symptom of a broader disease in his cinema, namely his disturbing addiction to piracy and remixing. The director can’t hear a song but he has to cut it, spin it, donk it, slow it down, add a breathy vocal, speed it up again, start a gospel choir, hit the echo pedal , and end it with an irrelevant rap outro. As in his process, so is his storytelling: it’s disheartening that he doesn’t trust his material to capture our attention on its own, but instead inflates it like Blackpool illuminations. Elvis is a baby movie.

The supposed hook of this new movie is that it focuses on the financial exploitation of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler, who isn’t the worst thing in the movie) by his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, who could be). It could have been a rich angle to approach the legend of Elvis Presley, whose story is already very well known, from his beginnings as a young rockabilly star to his residence in Las Vegas, including his purchase of Graceland and his addiction. increasing use of drugs and alcohol. Luhrmann’s film hits all those beats, hammering with wide eyes a series of mundane observations about Presley, like the fact that his music blended white country music with black music styles. There are undoubtedly people in the world who weren’t aware of this incredibly famous fact, and it’s only natural that an Elvis biopic would talk about it, but it’s the way Luhrmann goes about it that annoys . Here we get a hilarious zoom in on Tom Hanks realizing the kid he hears on the radio is white; a languorous scene of the child-Elvis attending a ludicrous “sexy” blues performance in a tent, and taking part in a gospel revival during which he apparently receives the spirit of black music; there’s also explanatory dialogue to that effect, newspaper headlines about segregation, and a bankrupt scene in which Elvis, already an established star, takes inspiration from a promising man named Little Richard.

This approach greatly exaggerates Elvis’ innovation and is delusional when it comes to acknowledging how he appropriated the music of artists of color such as Little Richard. In fact, Little Richard had been playing for many years by the time Presley started recording “That’s All Right,” and “Tutti Frutti” was released shortly after Presley’s debut with Sun Records. This is important, because far from being an example of American musical crossbreeding, Elvis mostly got his start stealing from black performers, and had chances they wouldn’t have had because of his whiteness.

After spending so much time telling this alternate history, Luhrmann then moves on to failing other aspects of Elvis’ life – for example, Presley goes from a promising young rookie with rising recognition to a superstar who owns Graceland and sells merchandise. The death of Presley’s beloved mother is also hilarious – one moment she’s alive, and the next second Austin Butler is crying over his blouses in a dressing room, with almost no mention of his mother winning him over in the interval. period. These errors are significant, because the film is so extraordinarily long and spends what feels like decades on elements of Presley’s life that are considerably less interesting (like the Vegas residency), that the film feels cobbled together, a rag .

“These errors are significant, because the film is so extraordinarily long and spends what feels like decades on elements of Presley’s life that are considerably less interesting (like the Vegas residency), that the film feels cobbled together, a rag .”

Amid all of this, the familiar issues of biopics emerge, including the fact that Elvis is an extraordinarily famous icon and one of the most imitated people on the planet. Austin Butler does a perfectly commendable job of this, especially when performing musically. During dialogue scenes, his Elvis voice sounds strained at times, but the main thing is that he isn’t distracting. The late scenes in which we see the real Elvis perform show quite painfully the difference in charisma, but again, the real Elvis didn’t have to fight his surroundings to win people over. Opposite Butler, Tom Hanks, all prosthetics and creepy voice styles, portrays Colonel Tom Parker as some sort of predatory alien, but for some reason his performance never comes to life. There had to be so much more villainy, so much more upside for this controlling character, rather than having him be an unreliable narrator on the fringes. This failure to get Tom Parker through what might have been the film’s most interesting facet: a dark look at Elvis as a toy in a cage could make for a stunning film, perhaps from another director than Luhrmann.

Elvis is such a garish, buzzing, relentless object that for 2.5 hours wobbles to flash its gold like a drunken old millionaire in a striptease. The overall effect produced by so much frenetic vulgarity, so many brilliant effects, is one of total exhaustion. Luhrmann may never slow down, but there might still be time for him to give shape to his hyperactive cinema, perhaps with the help of a stubborn screenwriter (Elvis credits around 192 people on scripting duties) who can bring something recognizably human to its world.