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Elvis Review

“Elvis” brings all of the glitz, rhinestones, and jumpsuits you’d expect in an Elvis film, but without the necessary complexity for a movie from 2022 about the “King.”

Maximalist filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, who abhors visual restraint and instead opts for grand theatricality, should be the perfect creator for a Presley biopic, but isn’t. Luhrmann tells us this icon’s story from the perspective of the singer’s longtime, crooked manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Parker). After collapsing in his tacky, memorabilia-filled office, a near-death Parker awakens alone in a Las Vegas hospital room. The papers have labeled him a crook, a cheat who took advantage of Elvis (Austin Butler), so he must set the record straight. 

From the jump, Luhrmann’s aesthetic language takes hold: An IV-drip turns into the Las Vegas skyline; in a hospital nightgown, Parker walks through a casino until he arrives at a roulette wheel. Carrying a heap of affectations, Hanks plays Parker like the Mouse King in “The Nutcracker.” For precisely the film’s first half hour, “Elvis” moves like a Christmas fairytale turned nightmare; one fueled not by jealousy but the pernicious clutches of capitalism and racism, and the potent mixture they create. 

It’s difficult to wholly explain why “Elvis” doesn’t work, especially because for long stretches it offers rushes of enthralling entertainment. In the early goings-on, Luhrmann and co-writers Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner meticulously build around Presley’s influences. They explain how Gospel and Blues equally enraptured him—a well-edited, both visually and sonically, sequence mixes the two genres through a sweaty performance of “That’s Alright Mama”—and they also show how much his time visiting on Beale Street informed his style and sound. A performance of “Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton (Shonka Dukureh), and the emergence of a flashy B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) furthers the point. Presley loves the superhero Shazam, and dreams about reaching the Rock of Eternity, a stand-in for stardom in this case. He’s also a momma’s boy (thankfully Luhrmann doesn’t belabor the death of Elvis’ brother, a biographical fact lampooned by “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”).  

Though a biopic veteran, Hanks has rarely been a transformative actor. In this case, you can hear his accent slipping back toward Hanks. And the heavy prosthetics do him few favors, robbing him of his facial range—an underrated tool in his repertoire. And Hanks already struggles to play outright villains; shaping the story from his perspective takes the edge off of the potential menace. It’s a tough line for Hanks to walk: He must be unsuspecting yet vicious. Hanks creates a friction that doesn’t altogether work, but feels at home in Luhrmann’s heavy reliance on artifice. 

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