For two hours and 39 minutes we watched the ecstasy and the agony of Elvis Presley’s adult life. Baz Luhrman has done a masterful and artistic job of telling the complicated and sad story of Elvis’ rise to fame, set against the backdrop of racial issues that still trouble is today, and against the political turmoil caused by the killing of JFK, MLK, and Bobby Kennedy as well. For instance, I did not know that Elvis went into the Army instead of going to jail for violating the segregation rules of the day. Tom Hanks does an absolutely Oscar worthy job of portraying the master manipulator—- Colonel Tom Parker who was neither a Colonel nor a Tom nor a Parker, but rather a Dutchman without a country or a passport who’s whole life was a major deception (dying in Vegas in disgrace and debt 20 years after Elvis— in 1997). Equal kudos to Austin Butler who knocks it out of the park as an Elvis lookalike not to mention he’s got the moves and the grooves too, and yes he sang in the movie in the scenes preceding the Las Vegas performances where his voice was blended with Elvis’ own in places. He does a convincing job. One thing that is clearly missing in this movie is Elvis’ Christian faith, and there is absolutely no mention of his Gospel records. This is unfortunate.
As a poor boy from Tupelo (whose home I have visited there, and in Memphis at Graceland) unfortunately he was susceptible to all the temptations of fame, fortune, and numerous adoring women, though it is also clear that at least for many years he loved his wife Priscilla and their one child Lisa Marie. I understand that both of them have endorsed this film as accurate. Elvis was clearly a momma’s boy and when she died early on in his career his father, who was weak, and incapable of really running Elvis’ business, Elvis was left in the clutches of the ‘Colonel’, which was disastrous. It was the drugs he was given to keep him performing even when exhausted that likely caused his heart eventually gave out.
I personally did not grow up an Elvis fan. I didn’t go to his movies, nor buy his records (eventually I got a greatest hits collection). His real stardom came before I got involved in popular music in the 60s when the Beatles came along. I later came to appreciate some of his songs, especially the later one’s like ‘In the Ghetto’ or ‘Suspicious Minds’. This movie shows in a nutshell what American vices greed and fame and drugs can do to a vulnerable young man who loved to sing and perform. As B.B. King, his friend in Memphis would say, he was born for that, not for the glitz and the glamour. What he was not born for is ‘the star-maker machinery behind the popular song’ as Joni Mitchell once sang.