DRAMA; 2hr 39min
STARRING: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge
All business: from left, Hanks and Butler
On the face of it, Elvis Aaron Presley and Mark Anthony “Baz” Luhrmann are a match made in showbiz heaven. The singer, who died in 1977 at age 42, was all for going big or going home, while the Australian film-maker’s mega-ticket movies (Moulin Rouge!, Australia, The Great Gatsby…) are his rococo castles.
Luhrmann’s exhaustive treatment of Elvis’s larger-than life is told from the wily perspective of Colonel Tom Parker (a fat-suited and crustily accented Hanks), who was born Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk, came up on the carny circuit and (mis)managed EP (Butler) throughout his career. Blasting off in 1973 Las Vegas, the narrative loops back to its subject’s humble Tupelo origins, in which electric black music loomed large. Moving right along, it pops into the 1954 Louisiana Hayride country-music show, where the Colonel was galvanised by the swivelling white boy’s distinctive sound. “He was my destiny,” the portly opportunist decided as the women in the Hayride audience went nuts.
That history has long been a grooved record, ditto the rocking sensation and drug-addled wreck that Elvis became. The question is what Luhrmann, his co-screenwriters and his smouldering star bring to the remix — and one thing none of them is short on is get up and go go go. Elvis rockets along with barely a blink, tearing through the early years, in which EP’s parents, Gladys and Vernon (Thomson and Roxburgh), bring a Beverly Hillbillies touch to his freshly purchased Graceland mansion and the man who would be king scandalises stuffy establishment suits in the name of self-expression. Butler is the real, phenomenal deal throughout, blitzing EP’s early vocals and broody man-child vibe. Its take might be the Colonel’s but the sweep of the show is his to own. And sweep Luhrmann’s direction does, through EP’s drafting into military service, his marriage to Priscilla (DeJonge), his cheeseball movies, the introduction of his body squad, the Memphis Mafia, then onward and downward to the disillusionment and the drugs.
With a revolving door of smashing retro looks nailed as per by Luhrmann’s production- and costume-designer wife, Catherine Martin, the eye candy is off the charts. And if the supporting cast is largely under-utilised, depth and insight are sacrificed for scope and Elvis’s true self remains an enigma, in one sense that is probably as it should be. True stardom has always been impossible to pin down. Shielding itself with its own protective light, it outshines everybody in its path.