Baz Luhrmann’s Honka Honka Burning Love letter to the King.
My grandmother and Elvis Presley both share the same birthday of January 8th, 1935, and though they’ve never met, she still has been influenced by his music. I personally have to thank “Lilo & Stitch” and “Full House” for introducing me to the King. And we all have to thank him for entertaining us, delighting us, and making us dance to every classic hit he’s recorded.
Baz Luhrmann’s latest film “Elvis” shares its affection for the legend by casting the right actor as him. Austin Butler has transcended from a small time actor with shows like “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide” and a family cash grab like “Aliens in the Attic” to a fine young talent with roles in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and now “Elvis.” He’s Elvis Presley. He’s got the looks, the voice, and the attitude of the man, who went through the highs and lows of his career, under the financial abuse of his manager Col. Tom Parker, who took advantage of his fame. This is the performance of this young actor’s career, and if any future role is better than this, I’ll be surprised. Please give this guy a nomination.
Tom Hanks is also well cast as Parker, who is also an immigrant from the Netherlands, and a carnival man, who came across the young man’s talents, and became his manager. He narrates the film, trying to disclaim the fact that he led to Elvis’ death in 1977 with his greed and consistency. In a way, I was reminded of how he portrayed a few villains in “Cloud Atlas.” You really have to listen to his dialogue and nature.
It’s not just the stars, Luhrmann is able to single out, but also he provides the movie with the kind of style he offered in “Moulin Rogue” and “The Great Gatsby.” He combines both classic and modern-day music in the period settings. We didn’t have Doja Cat or Eminem back then, but this movie like to think we did. But he isn’t a millennial, because he allows the soundtrack and movie to have the classic hits sung by the King himself.
Another thing is the look and feel of the art direction, the cinematography, and the editing. Scenes merge with one another in various parts, and time progresses as the fame unfolds. It all looks vibrant with the right kind of pizazz that Luhrmann specializes. I kept looking at those mesmerizing images, the special effects, the colors, and “the bright light city that gonna set my soul on fire.”
Besides Butler and Hanks, and I’ll circle back soon, the all-star cast also includes Helen Thomson as Elvis’ worrying mother, Richard Roxburgh as his lousy father, Olivia DeJonge as his wife Pricilla, Luke Bracey as his talent manger Jerry Schilling, Kelvin Harrison, Jr. as B.B. King, David Wenham as Hank Snow, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as his son Jimmie Rodgers Snow. Out of everyone in the film, Butler puts all his effort in resurrecting the singer by using his voice, Hanks meets well with his age and steps outside his comfort zone, Thomson does some fine work when she stresses out about her son’s well-being, and DeJonge is also exceptional when she uses her courage as the wife.
The movie runs for 2 hours and 38 minutes, which seems a little long, but still has the kind of entertainment value that really wants us to see Elvis and the struggling world he’s lived in. It regards fame, insults about his dance moves by opposers, segregation, and drugs he’s taken to keep himself performing on stage. Underneath the music and powers of Elvis was a stressed out and complicated singer who’s rise in fame lead to him in various directions.
To watch this near masterpiece is to appreciate all he’s given to the world and acknowledge that fame has its tolls. If you enter this world, you have to balance both sides of your life. I’m not in that world, as I’m a film critic, but seeing all this makes the movie more poignant.
Enjoy the ride, baby!