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‘Elvis’ (4K UHD review)

As biopics go, Elvis Presley is certainly not a subject that has been lacking portrayals since his untimely death in 1977.

But with someone as iconic as Elvis, who has an industry based on his life and works that is still going strong long after his passing, the portrayals can at times verge on caricatural, often resulting in biopics about The King feeling forced and formulaic in the nth degree, with the humanity stripped from Elvis’ story.

Enter Baz Luhrmann.

With his wildly kinetic and exuberant style of filmmaking, Luhrmann has long since established himself as almost his own brand of cinema, which is a style of movie-making that has as many supporters as it has naysayers.

For those who find Luhrmann particularly tedious whenever he leans into his unbridled flamboyance, I can inform you that Luhrmann’s Elvis will not be the film to change your mind about the filmmaker.

However, for those who enjoy Luhrmann’s giddy willingness to turn everything up to eleven, Elvis may just be some of the filmmaker’s best work in recent times.

Playing out within a framework that essentially builds the story of Elvis’ life and career around the tropes of a superhero origin story, Luhrmann plays to his strengths of utilizing pomposity and kineticism to convey emotions, seeking to make the audience – perhaps particularly those unfamiliar with the extent of Elvis’ legacy prior to viewing Luhrmann’s film – feel the excitement people presumably felt when Elvis first broke into the mainstream and essentially took over the world of entertainment.

While this may sound like the film is caricature in essence, what Luhrmann manages to do with Elvis is convey the spectacle and hysteria associated with Elvis and his music, driving home the point of why the performer left such an indelible mark on not just the world of music specifically, but also popular culture at large.

This is not to say that the film is merely shallow spectacle seeking to only portray the glamorous aspects of Elvis’ life, as several of the grim aspects of his life are explored with the villain of the piece – Tom Hanks’ unscrupulous Colonel Tom Parker – being the dastardly counterpart who seems like a caricature, but actually just was that cartoonishly exploitative by all accounts.

As such, it becomes apparent that portraying Elvis as a superhero of sorts is not just a way to make younger audiences connect with the icon, it also fits within the context of the outrageous levels of fame Elvis had and how the film juxtaposes that by delving into the severity of the exploitation the star was subjected to.

What most will likely emphasize as the unambiguous highlight of Elvis, however, is the performance by Austin Butler.

Delivering a mesmerizing performance that is saturated with the commitment Butler poured into the titular role, Butler’s impressive efforts help to ground the exuberance and spectacle of the story in a central performance that injects an icon with an amount of humanity that is often lost when someone leaves behind a legacy as significant as that of Elvis Presley.

Announcing anything as the definitive version of its kind is rarely advisable as people’s tastes inevitably differ tremendously, but to say Luhrmann’s Elvis is among the most notable of the countless works, is hardly a stretch.

Extras include featurettes, music video, and musical jukebox.

While there will certainly be plenty who will pass on Elvis solely on the basis of the credentials of its director, those who do decide to watch Luhrmann’s film will likely find that it manages to convey the essence of what made Elvis so iconic with such panache and vigor that it has the power to ignite an understanding and appreciation for his music in the uninitiated, and similarly rekindle the same in those who were already familiar with him but perhaps forgot how it felt the first time one heard The King.

4 out of 5 stars

 

 

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