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Elvis Baz Luhrmann is an exhausting mess of contradictions


It’s loud, exhausting, and aggravating, but sometimes it’s also pure brilliance and mastery. What a mess of contradictions.

In the 30 years since Baz Luhrmann made his way into the art scene with Strictly Ballroom, every Australian has an idea of ​​what kind of experience he has with the Luhrmann project.

He will be bold and disrespectful like Romeo and Juliet or extravagant and emotionally grandiose like Moulin Rouge, or he will be excessive and polite like The Great Gatsby.

Whatever Luhrmann does, there’s an intense glint of Baz-ian sheen and overeating, and your mileage will vary for that.

There’s a good chance you’ve made up your mind about Luhrmann long ago and there’s nothing on Earth that will keep you away or go anywhere near Elvis, the latest scene from the visionary director.

Elvis is a classic Luhrmann in many ways. He’s unrestrained, exuberant, demanding, aggressive, generous, luxurious, infuriating, explosive and exhausting – sometimes all at the same time.

Luhrmann always makes big choices, and all of those choices scream off the screen.

There are aspects of Elvis that are cinematic mastery and there are other parts putrid. It’s a mess of contradictions as well as being… just a mess.

It is narratively unfocused, characterizations are highly inconsistent and some of the cinematic choices are baffling. But, as overwhelming and relentless as it may be, there is true genius embedded in its boisterous overall suite.

Spanning from the time of King of Rock and Roll’s discovery to the end of his life, the highlight for Elvis is Austin Butler’s flashy, pulsing performance. The young American actor is, simply put, exceptional.

Presley is one of the most impersonators in the world, so the challenge has always been to bring something to the role that goes beyond tradition. It’s not enough that Butler can cast a tone in a deep, emotional voice, or that he can dance and spin with an irrepressible vigor that drives crazy — and he does.

Butler, Luhrmann, and co-screenwriters Sam Brommel, Craig Pierce, and Jeremy Donner created a version of Presley that is, layered, and above all human.

Butler captured the essence of Presley that goes much deeper than the status of an icon – this is a character who exists far from the stage and cameras, far from the performative aspects of his life. He and his scene partner Olivia Dejung as Priscilla Presley are magnetized and their sexually charged chemistry.

When the butler is on screen, he owns every inch of the frame. It’s a charming turn, one that goes beyond the biographical offerings of Rami Malek and Taron Egerton, and it’s hard to see how Elvis didn’t establish Butler as one of the most interesting talents of his generation.

Not for nothing, Priscilla Presley said Butler’s interpretation of Presley was “cool.”

The same can’t be said of Tom Hanks’ Colonel Tom Parker, the extroverted villain of the plot. In a rare Hanks gaffe, it’s a caricature rather than a character and there’s nothing quite like the nuances.

Colonel Tom Parker is the main reason Elvis’ condition has worsened. The character frames the film and his audio narration permeates every scene. It’s like a pest you want to squash away so you can get back to performing butler.

This is the struggle within Elvis. There are always multiple parts vying for your attention. You want to watch Butler but you have to put up with Hanks. You want to shower in the glamorous Katherine Martin production design and costumes but you have to battle with Luhrmann’s stunning trend to appreciate it.

Elvis is a movie that requires you to work, eliminating all Baz-ian distractions to get to the heart of the emotional and surprising man inside the circus. But it pulls you down until you run out of energy.

Of course, you don’t get that butler’s performance or the intoxicating sharpness of some of the most action-packed scenes without Luhrmann’s unique instincts as a director. As with any production-obsessed, cacophony of Luhrmann, you have to take all silly flaws cleverly.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Elvis in cinemas

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