Movie Review: Elvis | Local

BRENT NORTHUP movie review

Brent Northup



Having loved “Moulin Rouge”, I was eager to see how director Baz Luhrmann would electrify the life of Elvis Presley.

Perhaps because my expectations were so high, I came away slightly disappointed, even still enjoying the 159 minute trip.

Apparently I’m the only reviewer who wasn’t blown away by Austin Butler’s portrayal of Elvis. I’m always uncomfortable when an actor physically impersonates an actual character rather than filtering that life through their own being and owning the role.

I cringed at the hip shots in the early scenes. Yeah, the girls swooned over Elvis. Yes, moral America accused him of being the Pied Piper who led his children down the mountain of sin.

But the representation of his animal magnetism seemed superficial, superficial.

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Tom Hanks is comically miscast as the Machiavellian manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who both anointed and exploited Elvis. Hanks is too nice. Hollywood is full of sleazy actors who could have slipped into this juicy role.

But let’s focus on the positive.

To begin with, Luhrmann painted a compassionate portrait of a very complex star. The script allows Elvis to be layered, and his descent into drug addiction eschews standard tropes.

We see a good man/soldier/singer trying to keep his balance, but still sliding off the beam.

The music is nice, a mix of Elvis originals, plus some Butler renditions of his songs. Butler is better when he sings than when he passes out.

The portrayal of black musicians as founders of Elvis is welcome. Elvis adored BB King and modeled his music on black gospel and R&B.

Some critics have accused the film of appropriating black culture. One writer called the film racist in its one-dimensional depiction of musicians of color. The storyline hovers on a tightrope between stereotyping and respecting black musicians.

All in all, “Elvis” is worth watching, better than many musical biopics.

I’m a hard sell for this movie because I was Elvis’ target audience. I was a young teenager when he exploded onto the scene. At night, I hid a transistor radio under my pillow so I could listen to CFUN (“see the fun!”), a radio station in Vancouver, BC, playing rock nonstop.

But I was no fan of Elvis – he courted passed out women, not clumsy boys.

In the 1950s, I loved the Everly Brothers and Conway Twitty. In the 60s, my vinyls included Mama and Papas, Creedence Clearwater, Judy Collins, Beach Boys, Four Seasons, the Supremes and, yes, the Beatles, especially their darker hallucinogenic period when they belatedly retired “yeah Yeah yeah”.

I applaud a biopic that emphasizes the goodness of a star. I applaud its black musicians credited with the birth of rock.

But I didn’t really come out of it knowing the inner Elvis.

Butler looked the part, his hips wiggled the part, but he never captured the King’s sad soul.

No second serving for this Baz offer. Once was enough.

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