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Close-Up with Camenker Volume XXXIV, Movie Review: ELVIS

This Week for “Close-Up with Camenker,” Volume XXXIV, Movie Review: ELVIS

June 29, 2022

Hi, folks! It’s been awhile. I am glad to now be in “summer mode” and able to see more movies at Red River in the coming weeks. Expect more frequent reviews from me as the summer continues and more exciting titles arrive on the screen!

During Market Days, I got the chance to see the highly anticipated new ELVIS film from famed director Baz Luhrmann. Unlike many biopics that center around the King of Rock and Roll, this adaptation has a unique perspective in its narrative. Much of the film unfolds from Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ controversial long-time manager who helped launch him to fame.

While uniqueness is a really good thing in biopics, particularly those about icons who have been portrayed so many times, Luhrmann’s film falls short in far too many areas for me to give it a rave review.

The film’s biggest downfall by far is its running time. I continue to marvel that the length of movies has seemingly increased as audiences’ attention spans have decreased, particularly during the pandemic. While I understand that biopics have a lot to tackle in a short time and contend that the best ones actually focus on less rather than more, a nearly two hour and forty minute running time is just too much in 2022.

It does not help that the screenplay leaves a lot to be desired. While there are several intriguing tidbits of information and some fascinating character relationships portrayed, the script is just too jumbled, which causes things to run amok, especially in the second half. Little cohesion exists for the audience to piece the timeline and history of Elvis together.

It helps knowing about Elvis going in, which I assume is what most folks who see this film will have in their back pocket. I appreciate the continued emphasis on honoring cultural legends through cinema, but wonder personally if the rise of outstanding miniseries on streaming services (this year’s UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN and THE OFFER both come to mind) is a better way to portray real-life events, figures, and icons.

Running time and script aside, ELVIS does have two strong pieces going for it that make the film enjoyable enough and certainly tolerable. 

The biggest perk by far is the dynamic between actors Austin Butler as Elvis and Tom Hanks as Colonel Parker. While it is impossible to match Presley himself, Butler comes about as close as one could in a similar way that Rami Malek did as Freddie Mercury and Taron Egerton did as Elton John. He has the charisma, energy, and personality down pat and exerts the right amount of schmaltz that will make die-hard fans feel like they’re back at an Elvis show.

Hanks, undoubtedly one of the best living actors, is equally good as Parker, an unusual, mysterious, and rather reprehensible human. His transformation, make-up, prosthetic nose, and padding aside, is quite remarkable. Were it not for his unrecognizable vocal tone and eyes, you may not know it was Hanks. He is the perfect example of an actor who has not lost his touch.

The two men are at the center of the film’s plot and focus, playing off each other with a superb dynamic that is hard to find even among seasoned professionals. The way in which Parker is introduced at the start is also really cool, even though it eventually falls flat and loses focus.

The other strength of the film is its emphasis on the music, something that could not have been avoided. Butler, who does his own singing and does it well, captures the era through Elvis’ songs perfectly and figures like B.B. King and Mahalia Jackson who are portrayed as well add a good layer of additional music history. They also help focus on Elvis’ alignment with black artists throughout his career.

Like other Luhrmann projects, the aesthetics are pleasing enough in that the costumes, make-up, and sets work for what they’re trying to achieve. However, much as I did with his adaptation of THE GREAT GATSBY, what Luhrmann is trying to achieve is far too ostentatious for my taste and takes the idea of “lush” to an excessive level. As is the case with the running time, there is just too much showiness, especially scenes in which Luhrmann decides to move slowly for effect. Avoiding that entirely and cutting down on some of the over-the-top aesthetics could shave 10 minutes off the film at least.

I do not want to discourage folks from seeing this film nor do I want to make it out to be bad. It should be seen and it is, in fact, a decent movie. It’s just far from the best biopic and it is definitely not something that should be lauded and praised as innovative or game-changing.

The King lives on through this picture, but he still will live on if very few people see the film. His icon status cannot be erased and if anything, the Luhrmann movie will at least expose a new generation to the Elvis Presley that they may not know but could grow to love on their own.

Stay tuned for Volume XXXV of “Close-Up with Camenker,” which will return soon!

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