Elvis: ‘a lively reminder’ of an extraordinary life

Baz Luhrmann’s biopic is spectacular but shallow

Still from Elvis movie
The film covers most of Elvis Presley’s life, from his rise to fame to his death in 1977
(Image credit: Apple TV)

Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic isn’t “as much of a trip” as his 2001 musical Moulin Rouge!, but “it’s never less than stimulating” to look at, said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail – “a spectacle as much as a story”, with plenty of the director’s flourishes, including tricksy editing, split screen and slow-mo. Austin Butler assumes the title role, while Tom Hanks, in a fat suit and acres of prosthetic jowl, is scarcely recognisable as Colonel Tom Parker, Presley’s overbearing manager.

The film covers most of Presley’s life, from his rise to fame in the mid 1950s to his death in 1977: we see him recording those early songs in Memphis; making movies; enlisting in the US army; meeting his future wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge); and finally, overweight and unhappy during his lengthy Vegas residency. The story will be familiar to many, but the film offers “a lively reminder” of an extraordinary life.

The trouble is, it’s less a film about Elvis than a “159-minute trailer for a film called Elvis”, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. It feels like a “relentless, frantically flashy montage”, simultaneously “epic and negligible” with “no variation of pace”.

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The film has nothing profound to say about Presley’s character or music; it “retrofits” him with liberal sensitivities, skirts over the less savoury aspects of his life, and barely hints at the “failure and suffering”. Even in the “Fat Elvis” years, we only ever see “a decorous hint of flab”, and there’s no sight of the “yucky burger binges or the adult diapers”.

The film is oddly shallow, agreed Deborah Ross in The Spectator. Butler is a “charismatic” Elvis, but “we never get to look into his soul”; he’s just a “simple fella who wants to sing the music he loves”. Still, the film does “fizz along”, and though it’s very long, it’s never dull.

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