“Elvis”: fairground beast, stage beast, beast of burden

“Elvis”: fairground beast, stage beast, workhorse


Director Baz Luhrmann offers his vision of Elvis Presley, carried by a dazzling Austin Butler. 

“Elvis” is by no means a biographical film like any other, Baz Luhrmann infusing it with all the flamboyance, grace, excess and hyperbole that make the originality of “Moulin Rouge!”, “Gatsby” and now of this “Elvis”. Because only the Australian is capable of dividing the screen in two, then in three, then in eight, of inserting sequences of comic strips, surtitles and even a postcard without breaking the rhythm of this fluid feature film of 159 minutes.

The film has two voices. That, sometimes offscreen, of Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, perfect cynicism) and that of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler, hallucinating truth who deserves an Oscar nomination), the two men telling us, in turn, the history of the King.

Elvis is the King, the king, first of all the child who discovers the power of music by watching black people dance in the slums of his hometown and sing in church. For Elvis, music is sexual and spiritual ecstasy since it is, as his mother (Helen Thomson) repeatedly tells him, a gift from God. Then Elvis is the King, the king, the young man who makes “black music” and sways on stage, then decked out with the worst epithets by the media – “savage”, “perverse”, “Elvis the pelvis” – , because dangerous for the post-war “establishment”. Elvis shocks, detonates, provokes the hysteria of admirers, liberates.

And finally Elvis the King becomes the king of Las Vegas, worn out, puffy, alcoholic, addicted to pills that Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) leaves, exhausted from such a life. Because Parker, a former pupil of Barnum, adopts the formula of the “greatest show on earth” (“The greatest show in the world”) in order to push his foal always further, by first making a beast of a fair, then a showman, but still a beast of burden that he manipulates in order to collect 50% of his receipts.

In addition, Baz Luhrmann constantly places Presley in his historical context, segregation, the assassination of Martin Luther King then of Robert Kennedy, the beginnings of the hippie movement, social protests… Elvis the rebel, overwhelmed by his destiny, without ceases in search of the love of the public, a formidable love which nourishes it as much as it kills it. Unbridled musical epic, “Elvis” sticks the destiny of the star on that of America, Luhrmann sending us back to our demons, to Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and all the sacrificed on the altar of glory, money and profit.

Austin Butler is inhabited – possessed? – by this role in which he pours all his soul. And when Elvis/Austin sings for the last time in Las Vegas, his face puffy and streaked with sweat, we have a tight throat with this emotion so special from the last times. No doubt, only Baz Luhrmann was capable of such a vibrant tribute to the one who will always remain the King.

  • Rating: 4 out of 5
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