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New ‘Elvis’ film doesn’t quite take care of business

Movies

“Elvis” puts a bit of a different spin on the music biopic, I’ll give it that. It’s just that I’m not sure the spin applied by director/co-writer Baz Luhrmann is all that successful.

Following the life and career of the King of Rock & Roll from his childhood to his death in 1977, “Elvis” is really the story of the development and decay of the friendship between the title character (Austin Butler) and Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). Along the way, Parker builds Elvis into an international superstar while exploiting The King’s talents for his own gain.

The film attempts to frame Elvis as a superhero, possessing a gift to electrify audiences that turns out to be both a blessing and a curse. Parker presents himself as the wise old sage who tutors Elvis in how to use his power. But from the first syllable that leaves his lips, we know Parker can’t be trusted.

“Elvis” is not just a biopic, it’s an American folk tale, a myth about one of the country’s most influential icons. It’s just a shame they let Luhrmann in the director’s chair for this one.

Luhrmann’s style as a director is an acquired taste. His use of flashy camera moves and editing tricks render his vision in a way that really stands out. But while film is a visual medium, it’s also a storytelling medium and Luhrmann has a tendency to lose track of the core of his stories as he pursues his vision.

That definitely happens in “Elvis,” as Lurhmann crams in clever montage sequences and epic aerial shots of different landmarks while the story of Elvis and Parker takes a back seat.

These issues are made even more exasperating by the presence of the same narrative flaw that ails every career-spanning music biopic. Because this film covers Presley’s whole career, time has to be collapsed and the big moments get the most attention. Important issues like racism and the political unrest of the 60s are brought up but don’t really get the time they deserve because we have to get to the next scene where Parker does something scummy. It’s like the “Greatest Hits” version of The King’s life.

Those are some major issues but there is also a lot of good stuff in “Elvis.” The acting is terrific. Butler gives a full performance as Elvis. I was a little worried he’d just impersonate Elvis but he gives the character the whole spectrum of emotions.

Hanks is the slimiest I can ever remember seeing him as Parker. I totally loathed this dude by the end of the movie, which means he did a really good job. It’s also a smart move to tell the story from Parker’s perspective. Having such an unreliable narrator is another wrinkle that makes this movie stand out.

Best of all, this movie does a pretty good job capturing how powerful music can be. Whether it’s Elvis’s childhood musical awakening or the pandemonium The King caused by gyrating his hips, the musical moments in this movie are fantastic.

At the end of the day, “Elvis” has too many flaws to be truly great but it also has too many good elements to be truly terrible. Your enjoyment of the film will likely depend on how well you tolerate Luhrmann’s stylistic shenanigans. For me, all it really means is that “Bubba Ho-Tep” is still the king of movies about The King.

2 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on EastIdahoNews.com.

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