Step right up as one of the world’s most creative cinematic carnival barkers presents his greatest showmance ever, with the calliope and clamor of the ultimate merry-go-round trapping the gallop of an icon in a rotating pageant, careening toward early immortality. The collision of intertwined workhorses whirling to that inevitable exit stage deft is magic in the making at a mechanical distance and fascinating to watch. One of the most beloved and earnest entertainers in music history and one of the most curious huckster/promoters in that same shimmery sham of showbusiness are twin muses in Baz Luhrmann’s busy but effective Elvis (B+). The eccentric Australian writer/director casts his clever and often keenly observational lens on the Faustian bargain between Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) and his handler Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) to maneuver a career equally marked by chart toppers and electric performances as well as a myriad of missed opportunities. The maximalist, impressionistic and sometimes chronological presentation traces the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon of a young man inspired by the sounds of Memphis’ Beale Street being coronated as the King of Rock and Roll and the best-selling solo artist of all-time, all the while hemmed in to the myopic menagerie of a glorified side show act. Butler is truly a star being born, with bona fide revival tent wiggles and shakes plus aw-shucks charm worthy of being one of the most magnetic musicians to grace the stage, screen, airwaves and pop consciousness. This charismatic actor is undoubtedly the surprise main attraction here, conveying genuine connection with his audience and meeting the moment in a time and place of American and world history demanding his singular voice and outlook. The decision to juxtapose the crooner’s life opposite that of his opportunist manager intent on keeping his jack in the box is met with varying degrees of effectiveness. Summoning a strange accent and demeanor, Hanks can never quite bottle the intrigue expected of his uncanny antagonist role. Overall the milieu and music are consistently invigorating; Luhrmann hits emotional arcs strictly out of the ballpark. Viewers will leave the film with additional appreciation for what the pop performer brought to his platform. Building on more conventional biopics Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, Luhrmann’s bombastic bonbon ups the ante and the mythology around the man to conceive his epic take on a behind-the-music trope from an unexpected vantage point.
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