Elvis, rated PG-13
This film looks at the relationship between Elvis Presley and his long-time manager Colonel Tom Parker, told from Parker’s perspective. The movie condenses Elvis’ life into a 159-minute somewhat fictionalized biopic. The film is well-made and features solid performances by the two leads actors – Austin Butler as Elvis and two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia), as Colonel Tom Parker. The film was directed by Oscar nominee Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!), and written by Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, and Craig Pearce (Moulin Rouge!).
As the film opens, we see Presley as a boy being influenced by both Blues music and Gospel music. Parker calls himself a “snowman” because he likes to “snow” or con people. He works with carnivals, and manages the country music artist Hank Snow, played by David Wenham (Lord of the Rings trilogy).
We find out later that Parker was born in the Netherlands and was in the U.S. illegally. He meets Presley, a White man who sounds Black, at the Hayride, just as Presley’s first single “That’s All Right Mama” is taking over radio. His live show is filled with sexuality, as he blends Black Blues music and White rock and roll. When Presley’s popularity exceeds that of Snow, Parker dumps Snow and focuses all of his attention on Presley.
We see Presley frequent blues clubs on Beale Street in Memphis with B.B. King, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Little Richard, played by Alton Mason.
Parker gets Elvis signed to RCA Records and Elvis becomes incredibly successful. But some see him as singing Black music, and being overly sexual in his performances, and don’t like it. The film shows that to keep Elvis from getting arrested for indecency on stage, he enrolls in the Army. In reality, Presley was drafted.
Elvis would meet future wife Priscilla, played by Olivia DeJonge, in Germany in 1959 when she was only 14. When Elvis returned from the Army, Parker has him star in a series of light, cheesy films, though Presley had wanted to be a serious actor like James Dean. Beatle John Lennon when told of Presley’s death in 1977, responded that “Elvis died when he joined the army”. His music was never the same after he returned from the Army.
Eventually, Presley films his “Comeback Special” on NBC in 1968, though the film portrays Parker as being convinced it was going to be a Christmas special that he wanted, so that he could sell merchandise, such as a Christmas sweater. In reality, Parker had signed off on the special as it was filmed.
Presley wanted to tour internationally, saying he had never been out of the country, but Parker continually said that security was a problem, and that he couldn’t protect Presley outside of the country. Instead, he would have a multi-year run at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. Parker, who had a gambling problem, would lose about $1 million dollars playing roulette at the International each year.
Parker is portrayed as milking Presley for all he could get through merchandising, forcing him to go on stage when he was in no medical condition to do so, and overall controlling all aspects of his life and career. He is depicted as putting his own financial gain ahead of Presley’s creativity and eventually his health.
Richard Roxburgh (Moulin Rouge!), plays Elvis’ father Vernon and business manager. Helen Thomson portrays Elvis’ mother Gladys.
Themes in the film include fame, racism, control and manipulation. Content concerns include adult language, some of which abuses God’s name, an implied sexual encounter, and substance abuse.
Elvis is a fictionalized film about the life and career of Elvis Presley. It left out his Christian faith and how he loved to sing gospel music. Austin Butler sings all of Presley’s early music. For the Las Vegas years, his voice is blended with actual Elvis performances. It includes some excellent music, as well as strong performances by Butler as Presley and Tom Hanks as Parker.