Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of Elvis’s life is a dazzling spectacle of swinging hips, flashing sequins, and, of course, music. The film captures in spectacular detail Elvis Presley’s electric energy and stage presence. Austin Butler experiences instant fame after a “lightning in a bottle” performance.
He’s sweating profusely and sensually as he shimmies and tremors. It would be great if Elvis starred in his own biopic. With the use of a fat costume and prosthetics, Tom Hanks plays the obnoxious Colonel Tom Parker. The film is narrated by Elvis’s scheming manager and promoter, who also takes up most of the screen time.
At the start of the film, Parker (Hanks) is an elderly, overweight man at the hospital hooked up to a morphine drip. He feels terrible about being falsely accused of killing Elvis. He was the mastermind of the greatest circus act of all time.
As the title “Snowman” suggests, Parker was rather pleased with himself. While he was at it, he’d take all your money, but he’d make sure you were happy about it.
Parker reflected on his time spent in the early ’50s as the tour manager for a country music act. Each participant assumed the role of a “white boy” singing the songs of a different ethnic group. The unthinkable had to be witnessed by Parker.
During his performance, Elvis Presley (Butler) gets a boost of confidence from his mother (Helen Thomson). Elvis’s screaming vocals and seductive thrusting set underwear on fire. Young women cheer wildly and get to their feet. Parker is shocked to see how easily Elvis can sway any woman.
Throughout the film, we get glimpses of Elvis’ (Chaydon Jay) humble beginnings in Mississippi. While his father (Richard Roxburgh) was in jail, he and his mother were forced to live as sharecroppers. Elvis was mesmerized by the passionate preaching of gospel musicians.
He used to hang out at juke joints on Beale Street when he was a teenager in Memphis, Tennessee, to listen to and watch blues bands. He looked up to them, with their sharp clothes and polished pompadours. Elvis liked their sound, fashion, and showmanship. This was a chance Parker couldn’t pass up. To take over Elvis’s career, he decides to sign him.
Told With a Frenetic Flourish
The story of Elvis is portrayed with the kind of frenzied flourish that fans of Baz Luhrmann’s previous works (Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby) have come to anticipate from him. Quick cuts, split screens, sweeping camera angles, and other dazzling visual flourishes are used often throughout the film.
After Parker’s voice-over introduction to each scene, the music and dancing begin in full force. Luhrmann mashes up Elvis tunes with blues, gospel, and contemporary R&B. By doing so, he finally gives credit where credit is due and honors the black musicians who were the source of Elvis’s creativity.
They never witnessed his success, celebrity, or fortune. B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison Jr. ) has a fantastic exchange with Elvis Presley (Presley himself) in which he encourages the singer to be loyal to his black heritage. In a segregated America, he would go far beyond what Martin Luther King Jr. was able to accomplish.
For the first two acts, Luhrmann sticks with the Allegro tempo. Once Elvis’s fame as an actor and singer was well-established, he slowed down in the 1960s. Elvis’ union with the youthful Priscilla Wagner has weakened Parker’s iron hold (Olivia DeJonge). Austin Butler is allowed to demonstrate his acting skills in a real-world setting.
Troubled by the racial tension and violence of the time, Elvis begins to have doubts about his own future. He evaluates how his artistic reputation has been marketed to the public.
This is the moment when Elvis realizes Parker is the Devil on his shoulder. Such a realization was extremely costly and arrived long after it was needed. Both medicines and the attention of his adoring admirers became intoxicating to Elvis.
The Story Is Driven by Tom Hanks
Luhrmann’s decision to have Tom Hanks play the lead role is a misstep. Parker and Elvis’s relationship is undeniable, although in this case, Elvis seems to be overemphasized.
More of the real Elvis, beneath the mask, would have been great. Instead, the entire Elvis story is told from Parker’s point of view. It’s as if Luhrmann was nervous about letting Austin Butler drive the story.
Two and a half hours in length, Elvis still manages to energize the audience. They have some really great musical numbers here. You’ll feel the want to do the groupie dance of jumping and gyrating.
Excellent work was also done in citing Elvis’s inspirations. When it comes to audience reaction, Tom Hanks is bound to divide opinion. He overshadows Austin Butler. Almost nobody is interested in watching a film starring Col. Tom Parker.