At 2 hours 40 this film had to be brilliant, otherwise it would have been a nasty self-indulgent mess. Director Baz Luhrmann is notorious for long films, which can be flabby. This isn’t one of them. 2 hours 40 wasn’t enough.
Elvis is two films bolted together. The brilliant Austin Butler portrays Elvis in a tour de force. Alongside the genius of Elvis is the slimy, creepy, manipulating Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). Parker is a huckster who it turns out is an illegal immigrant with a gambling addiction of colossal proportions. Earning 50% of the Elvis goldmine wasn’t enough and he had to do deals with Mafia hotel owners in Las Vegas.
Elvis meanwhile has a backstory of stupendous importance. He was brought up in a black neighbourhood during the segregation years. His childhood influenced his taste in music and especially gospel and black blues singers. The tension between a black music influenced genius and *sponsors* who wanted robotic safe music is fully explored. But the music is everything in this film.
The slaughter of American leaders in the 1960s doesn’t have the power that it should have had. But it was telling that he didn’t go to the funeral of Martin Luther King.
The collapse of Elvis into drug fueled stupor isn’t an exercise in pity-porn.