In the (almost) seven years he’s been blogging, ME has rarely done a movie review. Well, I’ve done several documentaries. But apart from The Wall, this is the only scripted movie. I toyed with the idea ‘coz I like movies. But for a guy as significant to rock ‘n roll as Elvis, hell yea. I went to see this flick with my Elvis buddy (sings like him, knows all the songs) Bill. Here’s a review.
Let me cut to the chase as we say – out of four stars I would give Elvis 2 1/2. I would define that as pretty good, pretty entertaining but not great. The movie is directed by Australian director Baz Luhrmann, known for his over-the top directing style in Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge.
I’m always a little leery about directors like that as they seem to often favor style over substance whereas I’m kind of a meat and potatoes viewer, especially when it’s a biopic. My biggest problem is that tonally this movie is all over the map. It comes across – intentionally I think – as cartoonish and then veers over into drama. So I often didn’t know whether or not to take it seriously.
You might want to watch this extended (4 1/2 minute) trailer before moving on:
The first thing you need to know is that like every biopic ever made, they just make shit up as they wish which then becomes The Truth. That whole scene with Elvis gyrating in some Southern Baptist church? Well, I am hardly THE Elvis expert but I never heard of that. Now I grant you that the great Southern singers (Aretha, Ray Charles, etc.) all learned to sing in church. And I know that Elvis was heavily influenced by church music and gospel. But for me, that scene just doesn’t ring true.
What does ring true – since it’s undeniable – is Elvis’ reverence for Black music. Hell, “That’s All Right Mama” was a song by Delta blues singer Arthur Crudup. Elvis knew where the good material was. And yes, he met B.B. King but there is zero evidence that they had more than a nodding acquaintance. Sad to say it is not bloody likely that a white guy and black guy in Mississippi were out hanging out together as peers.
I think they sort of captured it right with Elvis’ manic appeal to women. But focusing on his crotch in the breakthrough scene is only part of the story. The Beatles hardly moved and yet they got the same reaction just by shaking their heads. It was the whole essence that mattered.
Now Austin Butler – whose name didn’t ring a bell but who it turns out I previously saw in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood – is fantastic and his performance is Oscar-worthy. Bill and I were actually debating if the final concert – the Fat Elvis on Dope concert – was Elvis newsreel or Butler. (Turns out it was Butler.)
Tom Hanks is great too under tons of makeup as the smarmy “Colonel” Tom Parker. (Parker was as much a colonel as I am. He was a Dutch immigrant with no passport who couldn’t take Elvis overseas lest he be caught.)
They had Hanks (as the Colonel) narrate the thing but personally I would have found it more effective if Elvis had narrated it. Other things they seemed to get right were Elvis’ close relationship with his mother and – at least at first – with his wife. Weirdly, in my recollection, they never once mentioned Bill Black (bass) or Scotty Moore (guitar) names but later put graphics up naming his entourage whom almost no one has ever heard of.
I was kinda surprised that over and above Presley and his band appearing on the Lousiana Hayride, there wasn’t much mention of his country music influence. For my money, if you take blues, country, and gospel and mix them up in a blender you get Elvis. The term ‘rockabilly’ is a contraction of rock and hillbilly.
Some other things that don’t ring true are Elvis’ reaction to Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy’s death. Over and above the fact that Elvis was American, I doubt if MLK’s death affected him all that much ‘though I heard Bobby’s did. Why I’m not sure as Elvis was a conservative good old boy, even going out of his way to meet Nixon when the rest of us hated his guts. It would have been better I think if they’d spent Sixties’ time on Elvis’ irrelevance when the Beatles arrived. Irrelevance at least for a few years until his leather-adorned comeback special.
Some other bullshit inaccuracies – Elvis never berated the Colonel from the stage and despite some implications, Parker really wasn’t personally responsible for Elvis turning into a walking pharmacy. That shit is on Elvis as near as I can see.
As to other reactions, my friend Bill liked it more than I did because he really thought that Butler did a great job and that overcame the over-the-top aspect. And by and large, the movie gets the trajectory of his life right.
Should you see it? I dunno. I suppose if you’re an Elvis fan, sure. If you like biopics and don’t mind fast-and-loose with facts, wait and rent it.
Thank you very much. ME has left….. the building.