by Afra Nariman
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Stars: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge
Luhrmann’s aesthetic excess is undoubtably there, filling up most of the runtime and it is unrelenting in doing so through it’s editing and pace. Nevertheless, what’s interesting is that within its unrelenting excess and extravagance, there are important moments of restraint. Rather than falling into a common trap of music biopics — that is, overemphasizing or overdramatizing high and/or low emotional moments in the story — Luhrmann utilizes the film’s unrelenting pace to never harp too long on any single moment or storyline.
This is partly possible for Luhrmann within the scope of the film because of the dynamic between Tom Hanks’ Colonel Parker and Austin Butler’s Elvis. While most music biopics are typically told through the experience and perspectives of the given artist — and the best parts of this film still are the ones in Butler’s perspective — Luhrmann creates extra distance between us and Elvis by allowing the film’s perspective to float between the two lead roles, causing much of the film to be experienced through Parker. Because of this, it is essentially through Parker’s non-1st person perspective that we experience Elvis’ story, so there is no need to make us experience particularly emotional moments through Elvis’s perspective — which would naturally feel more heightened. (Nevertheless, scenes featuring Butler’s perspective are clearly the better parts of the film; I’m only noting this dynamic because it’s an interesting one when reading this film as Luhrmann’s)…
This restraint not only allows Luhrmann to keep a fluid, fast-moving pace, itself rooted in a different sort of excess; it also keeps the film from falling into the traps that many other biopics of a similar type do, in that it doesn’t try to create unneeded emotional tension for its own sake. This is not to say there aren’t emotional moments, only that Luhrmann exercises restraint by not harping on these moments for too long.
Exercising this restraint throughout the majority of the runtime then allows the film’s ending, featuring one of Elvis’ final performances, to feel emotionally authentic and be experienced as a sort of release from the film’s tension brought on by its pacing and other forms of excess.
MY RATING /5:
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