Sunday, January 22, 2023


Movie Name:
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Kelvin Harrison Jr., David Wenham, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Luke Bracey, Dacre Montgomery, Leon Ford, Gary Clark Jr., Yola, Natasha Bassett
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
After nearly a decade away from the big screen, writer/director Baz Luhrmann is back, with his own unique take on the life of rock icon Elvis Presley. The film focuses its narrative on the relationship that is established between Elvis Presley and his commandeering business manager & agent, Colonel Tom Parker. Parker narrates the story, providing some context on where Presley grew up and where he eventually settled, Memphis, and how be became enraptured by the raw energy and charisma of Presley on one of his live performances. Upon taking management of Presley's career, his rise to stardom is a fast one, taking the family from sudden poverty to considerable wealth. At the same time, the controversy surrounding Presley increases, from his overly unconventional performances, to his sound, considered by the segregationists as too "black". As Parker also comes progressively under scrutiny and following a particularly charged concert, Presley is drafted into the Army as a way to curb his prosecutors, and also remove focus from Parker himself. As the 60s roll on and civil rights movements become increasingly more visible, and even more so after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Presley has a desire to become more politically conscientious in his songs, something that Parker strongly discourages. They come to a halt when Elvis stages a comeback special with a Christmas Special. While Presley wants to go on and start a world tour, the controlling Parker manages to arrange for a long standing contract with the International Hotel in Vegas, which ends up consuming Presley's career and life.
Baz Luhrmann has been able to carve out an interesting career for himself, one where his distinct point of view which includes an eye for baroque art direction, married with modern pop culture references, somehow permeate a lot of his material, even when he adapts classic pieces of literature (case in point, his version of William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby", two of his best features). His take on what can be considered a "biopic" while being faithful to his point of view, ends up flailing on two particularly relevant aspects: character construction and humanizing the characters he's showcasing on screen. The film has quite a few strong elements to it, namely how it manages to infuse and capture the joy of music throughout most of the narrative, also its illustration of the impact of African-American culture and the "birthing" of rock and roll through the particularly energetic episode featuring Little Richard, and its "Forrest Gump" like manner of showcasing the social upheavals of American society, yet none of these details further cement or gives nuance to all these characters. Baz Luhrmann in this film, probably more so than in any of his prior features, comes across as someone who firstly privileges his brand and aesthetic in detriment of the ability to tell a story and do it so with actual palpable and existing characters. And while abstract exercises in excess can be a rewarding view, the film eventually runs out of energy, since it portrays the characters consistently the same, always through the same lens, never giving them any nuance. That's the case of the puzzling performance of Tom Hanks, who is truly perplexing in this role, giving at times the impression of mimicking Randy Quaid in one of the National Lampoon films. His rendition of Colonel Parker, is always a svengali to Presley, never letting that facade down. The same thing going for Presley, who aside from his relationship with his mother, all others are pushed aside or even barely scraped at (including his relationship with his father and with his wife, Priscilla). Austin Butler has the mannerisms properly captured, but in the end, it feels like a hollowed puppet in a film where lots of visual devises and gimmickry are utilized, without giving him an opportunity to be an actual person. The cinematography, costume and production design are strong as always, but in the end, this film puts on a show but fails to register the humanity of those who are in the limelight. It's a not so interesting exercise from a director who has done better in the past.