I have never hidden the fact that I am a bit of an Elvis fan. Not one for collecting all of the records and memorabilia etc… but I thought he was a great entertainer. So when this film came out I knew I had to go and see it.
Movie Plot (as if you don’t know)
The movie is written, produced and directed by Baz Luhrmann. It’s a more or less complete biopic of the life of Elvis told through the eyes of the man who became his sole manager, (Colonel) Tom Parker. This man somehow managed Elvis through his whole career. The story of how Elvis rose to conquer the music world is relayed through Parker (played by Tom Hanks) who is on his deathbed in 1997.
Elvis is played by Austin Butler. Not easy (blue suede) shoes to fill for sure but Butler does a fine job overall. From what I have read he also sings (at least some songs) in the movie. If that is indeed true then very well played Mr. Butler.
The story (or plot) is well known. Young Elvis is into his music even before high school and has his own unique style based on various musical influences including Rhythm & Blues, country and gospel. When Tom Parker hears him sing he takes over his career which goes sky high. Then Elvis gets high – on all the various prescription drugs, uppers, downers the lot. He is given drugs to keep him awake or get him to sleep depending on which town he is travelling to for a performance although the film only gets into that late in his career (the Vegas years).
Elvis shocks America – which was incredibly quite prim and proper back in the 1950s – with his gyrating performances. Then he shocks the world. Threatened with prison (so they say) Parker thinks it is a great idea if he is conscripted into the US Army where he serves his time in (West) Germany. Just imagine if he came along a few years later. He could have ended up serving in Vietnam! Now that would have made for some interesting films – fact or fiction.
In Germany Elvis meets his soon to be wife and when he returns to the USA Parker has him making so many movies that he becomes the highest earning movie star (so the story says). But he misses performing in front of a live audience and soon makes a Christmas Special TV show. Following his ‘comeback’ show other outside influencers implant the idea that Elvis should tour Europe and Japan. Parker’s grip on the King of Rock n Roll is slipping until Elvis starts playing big shows in Las Vegas. Through a combination of sweet-talking and pure bullshit Tom Parker persuades Elvis to keep playing in Las Vegas. Elvis’ dream of a world tour is gone but the world just comes to Vegas to see him. The rest, as they say, is history.
There is so much to cover in a movie of a man who lived several lifetimes each year that he was famous. But the movie somehow manages to pack it all in. Largely by featuring several segments of scrapbook montages which handle it very well. Almost documentary style at times. There are times when original footage of his fans is mixed in with the actors during concerts – and it all works well.
In the end his demise is dealt with quite quickly – maybe too quickly. However right at the end there is real footage of Elvis performing on stage (in Vegas) only 3 weeks before he died. An overweight Elvis sat playing the piano while singing Unchained Melody, a real classic. At this point in time he could barely stand on his own feet yet he could still sing a great song perfectly. So much so that he still held the audience in the palm of his hand. Spellbound. The ultimate entertainer right to the end.
The first thing that strikes you is Hanks doing some ridiculous accent for Tom Parker. I have never heard Parker speak and i doubt many die-hard Elvis fans have either. And even if they had it doesn’t matter. It is both annoying and pathetic.
Now that is off my chest I have to say that as an Elvis fan (of sorts) I liked it. But I will try to be even handed here. I am sure many we saw at the Parkes Elvis Festival in Parkes a couple of months ago – for post click here – will rush to see it. No doubt it will be shown in Parkes cinema at the next festival.
As far as the movie goes it does not paint Parker in a good light at all. He is mostly devious (what showbiz promoters/managers aren’t) and even sinister at times. Not unlike the character of Louis Cyphre played by Robert De Niro in Angel Heart. Probably intentionally so.
Austin Butler was very good. It is a difficult to play such famous people especially entertainers with the stature of Elvis. I won’t get carried away and say he was excellent – judge that for yourselves – but it wouldn’t surprise me if he won an Oscar for this one. Let’s put it this way: If Rami Malik can win an Oscar for playing Freddie Mercury then Butler is a nailed on winner and worth a bet (not that I am encouraging gambling here – that’s just a tip). While the rest of the cast did very well no supporting roles stood out.
The overall production was very good and although the film was 2 hours and 40 minutes long the time flew by. Always a sign of a well made movie I say. Elvis fans will surely flock to see it and there will be plenty for them to debate for sure. As unreal as Elvis’ life was, there seemed to be some poetic licence at times. (I personally don’t know for sure though, maybe older cinema goers would.)
For anyone who even remotely likes Elvis or indeed anyone who simply knows his story, the ending is certain to be emotional. I had never seen that particular footage before.
I believe it will be enjoyed by those who like Elvis’ music and those who are not really bothered. I give this movie 4 stars (out of the usual 5).