Moulin Rogue taught me one thing about Baz Luhrmann: he loves to make an extravagant fairy tale out of his material but when it comes to the substance underneath, he doesn’t always know how to properly present the complexities of real life. If there was one movie where he absolutely had to crack that formula down, it was Elvis.
And try as he might……he doesn’t.
On paper, it sounds like his directorial style aligns with what we know about Elvis on stage: flashy, over-the-top, very exuberant and above all, frenetic. That’s how 50% of the carte blanche plays out with his directing: every scene has this stream of constant energy overload running high off its own supply and it STILL finds a way to run at half speed; for someone who interviewed a lot of people close to Elvis in preparation for this film, Luhrmann doesn’t give off the impression of someone who cares about the person more than he cares about the legend.
From quick whip-pans and harsh zoom ins with the steadfast cinematography, immaculate retro-style production design and consistent tone throughout, stimulating visuals, intricate attention to detail with the costumes and props thanks to Catherine Martin and exquisite integration of country and R&B music with volume bumped up to 11, the films presentation does a solid job showcasing the meteoric rise and fall of Presleys career and all the chaos it ensued. And yes, Austin Butler does more than just nail the essence of Elvis, capturing both the terror and intoxication of his stardom as both a performer and a person.
So yeah, it looks exhilarating and the acting is solid throughout but all of this atmosphere gets so overwhelming after a while. I wouldn’t find much of any of this a big issue IF ONLY THE FILM CAN ONLY BE BOTHERED TO TAKE A DAMN BREAK!
This is probably the most discordant I’ve seen a movies pacing ever: tiresome at best and lamentable at worst. First act breezes by way too quickly and the last two stall out until the finish line: the film moves at its own pace whenever it damn well pleases and while that’s something I can appreciate for how daring it is, the whiplash I got from it is like what happens when you book Joe Swanson racing The Flash.
Whenever the soundtrack switches to modernized music, it immediately takes you out of the moment; it’s jarring. The editing was pulled off to dizzying and delirious effects (someone got coked up in the editing room), jarring jumps in the timeline, very loose with facts and inaccuracies and…..really, I can’t say much about the story other than it’s brutally simple and repetitive.
There are nice moments in the story where they try to talk about the racial segregation happening at the time that made Elvis shift and contemplate his entire identity. That also doesn’t lead much to anything because Elvis does not feel important in his own damn movie. Not building the narrative emphasis around Elvis himself was already a fatal error but that only makes when the movie goes down the typical surface level biopic formula all the more infuriating; it deliberately sidesteps anything actually interesting about Elvis to drown itself in a sea of self-indulgence.
Baz took the lines “A little less conversation, a little more action” too literal and the final result is a project that, while beautiful to look at, blemishes Elvis’ true true story behind the scenes and doesn’t really respect its audience.