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Elvis (Baz Luhrmann, 2022) wr. Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner, dp Mandy Walker; Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Luke Bracey, Natasha Bassett, David Wenham, Xavier Samuel, Kodi Smit-McPhee; biopic; Cannes
Sean Slatter, 'Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis sparks a little more conversation among critics at Cannes', IF:
Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis attracted the kind of showstopping attention the King was known for following its premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Screening out of competition, the Warner Bros. biopic drew a 12-minute standing ovation from the Palais audience, during which star Austin Butler embraced Elvis’s ex-wife Priscilla Presley, portrayed in the film by Australian actress Olivia DeJonge.
The story frames the journey of the iconic crooner through his relationship with enigmatic manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), who relays the events as a man looking back while nearing the end of his life.
Spanning a period of more than twenty years, the story delves into the complex dynamic between the pair, starting from Presley’s rise to fame and continuing through to his unprecedented stardom, the events of which are set against the backdrop of the evolving cultural landscape and loss of innocence in America.
While not unanimous in their praise of the film, critics have been unable to deny the rich spectacle of Luhrmann’s production.
In his review, Deadline‘s Pete Hammond described Elvis as a “visual and vocal feast of a movie”, noting that, technically, it was “every bit as brilliant as you might think a Baz Luhrmann production would be”.
Hammond wrote that Butler “thrillingly succeeds” in the main role, while DeJonge was “superb” as his wife, also singling out other members of the Australian cast for their performances.
“Helen Thomson nicely plays mother Gladys,” he wrote.
“Richard Roxburgh as father Vernon Presley, and Luke Bracey as Jerry Schilling, also have key moments in Presley’s inner circle.”
Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney suggests that rections to the film will rest largely on how audiences perceive Luhrmann’s “signature brash, glitter-bomb maximalism”.
“If the writing too seldom measures up to the astonishing visual impact, the affinity the director feels for his showman subject is both contagious and exhausting,” he writes.
“Luhrmann’s taste for poperatic spectacle is evident all the way, resulting in a movie that exults in moments of high melodrama as much as in theatrical artifice and vigorously entertaining performance.”
Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman begins his examination of how the film’s substance matches up to its style by acknowledging the challenge involved in capturing the essence of Elvis, whom he describes as the “mythological figure in the history of popular music” behind The Beatles.
He goes on to describe Luhrmann’s film as a “fizzy, delirious, impishly energized, compulsively watchable 2-hour-and-39-minute fever dream” that is more successful in its objective at certain points than in others.
Gleiberman points to Butler coming off as “more harmless than the real Elvis” as a key problem in the film’s first half, but also notes that it may now be “close to impossible” for a movie to capture how radical the singer’s impact was.
He is more positive when talking about the latter stages of the story, which follow Elvis’s five-year residence at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.
“What Luhrmann grasps is that the Vegas years, in their white-suited glitz way, were trailblazing and stupendous — and that Col. Parker, in his greedy way, was a showbiz visionary for booking Elvis into that setting,” he writes,
“The film captures how Elvis did some of his greatest work as a singer there, apotheosized by the avid ecstasy of Burning Love.”
Elvis will be released in Australian cinemas on June 23.
On the film itself, Robbie Collin of The Telegraph gave it four out of five stars, calling it "a bright and splashy jukebox epic," but that "it veers in and out of fashion on a scene-by-scene basis: it's the most impeccably styled and blaringly gaudy thing you'll see all year, and all the more fun for it." Kevin Maher of The Times called it Luhrmann's "best film since Romeo + Juliet ... The power in the musical numbers is drawn from Butler's turn but also from Luhrmann, who edits with the kind of frenetic rhythms that are almost impossible to resist (feet will tap) ... They are the spine-tingling highlights that make the entire project a must-see movie." Jim Vejvoda of IGN called it "a dizzying and at times even overwhelming chronicle of the rock icon." Owen Gleiberman of Variety called it "A fizzy, delirious, impishly energized, compulsively watchable 2-hour-and-39-minute fever dream – a spangly pinwheel of a movie that converts the Elvis saga we all carry around in our heads into a lavishly staged biopic-as-pop-opera." Joshua Rothkopf wrote for Entertainment Weekly that it "delivers the icon like never before" and that Luhrmann recaptured "his Moulin Rouge! mojo with a hip-swiveling profile loaded with risk and reward." He went on to praise Butler's performance, saying that he "...stares down the lens and melts it."
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times, while praising the visuals and Butler's performance, felt mixed about the film being told from Colonel Tom Parker's perspective, saying "I would have loved to have listened in on Luhrmann and Hanks's conversations about their ideas for the character; if nothing else, it might have explained what in the world they were after here. I honestly haven't a clue, although the image of Sydney Greenstreet looming menacingly in The Maltese Falcon repeatedly came to mind, with a dash of Hogan's Heroes." In a negative review for PopMatters, Hannah Engler called it "a missed opportunity to liberate Elvis from the constraints of myth and look frankly at his genius, his flaws, and his addiction (something Elvis also attributes largely to Parker, in a way that is not only ahistorical but irresponsible)."
In a review for IndieWire, David Ehrlich wrote that it "finds so little reason for Presley's life to be the stuff of a Baz Luhrmann movie that the equation ultimately inverts itself, leaving us with an Elvis Presley movie about Baz Luhrmann. They both deserve better." He also criticized Hanks' portrayal of Parker, calling it "a 'true true' performance defined by a fat suit, a fake nose, and an accent that I can only describe as the 'Kentucky Fried Goldmember'." On an historical note, journalist Alanna Nash, who had written an acclaimed biography of Parker in 2010, called the film a "Baz Luhrmann fever dream" that kept the liberties of history fair except to Parker, citing that Luhrmann's approach of presenting it through a present-day lens meant that the complicated character researched by Nash of Parker is simplified.
Elvis is less a biopic than a circus act, with a preposterous performance from Tom Hanks as the King’s evil manager, Colonel Tom Parker, pitched somewhere between Foghorn Leghorn and a Bond villain. Framing the story through Parker forges an unexpected pathway into the life of the titular superstar, who is used and abused by his portly puppet master in pursuit of the greatest show on earth (and the making of a ton of cash).
As usual Luhrmann literalises, turning Suspicious Minds into an on-the-nose comment on the fraught relationship between Elvis (sensationally played by Austin Butler) and the Colonel.
By taking an unusual route, the director avoids some of the biopic genre’s greatest pitfalls: thankfully, there are no goofy lightbulb moments attempting to simplify the creative process. It’s long and exhausting, the film’s energy coming and going in waves – but when it peaks, Elvis delivers an unusual haunting intensity that will reverberate after the credits roll. The Guardian.
Blonde arrives not long after another auteur-helmed film about an uber celebrity: Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. This Baz Luhrmann production was directed by Baz Luhrmann, produced by Baz Luhrmann, co-written by Baz Luhrmann from a story by Baz Luhrmann, created with the bling and flair of Baz Luhrmann, bright and loud like Baz Luhrmann, with not even one scene fully devoted to a drawn-out stage or studio performance from Elvis. Because Baz Luhrmann is the DJ; Baz Luhrmann is the jukebox manufacturer; Baz Luhrmann is the visionary, reducing the king of rock ‘n’ roll to sound bites and a thrusting pelvis.
These films are interesting companion pieces because both make it baldly obvious the director is the star, and his subject pure iconography. Luhrmann’s offered one simple answer to who or what killed Elvis: it was his maniacal manager Colonel Tom Parker (outrageously played by Tom Hanks in the mode of a Bond villain by way of Foghorn Leghorn). Dominik also trades in simplistic messages, but on multiple fronts: it was bad men; it was daddy issues; it was…an aborted fetus?! Luhrmann doesn’t “do” politics, while Dominik, after directing three very fine narrative features (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Killing Them Softly), just doesn’t know what he’s doing. flicks.com.au.
Buckmaster, Luke 2022, 'From Strictly Ballroom to Elvis: the career of Baz Luhrmann – sorted', The Guardian.
Garry Gillard | New: 13 August, 2020 | Now: 4 October, 2022