Luhrmann makes an even more revealing connection in another early scene, in which young Elvis (Chaydon Jay) peeks through a crack in a blues shack wall to see a black couple slippery dancing before scampering across a field to a Pentecostal mission tent , where worshipers tremble to the calls of a gospel choir. Sex and religion – these two typically American sources of confusion – thus merge in his mind, making his own signature twists a fiery blend of reverence and sexuality. It’s no wonder that the girls at his concerts seem doubly ecstatic.
The script spans Presley’s entire life, focusing on the growing tensions between Elvis and Parker, the latter of whom tells the story on his deathbed while shuffling through an abandoned Casino of the Mind in a hospital gown. Hanks plays Parker, armed with an awards season starter pack with a heavy accent, rubber nose and cheeks, and while his performance is hugely entertaining – Hanks would have a hard time being anything else – it perhaps belongs in a more conventional version of this film.
Parker, an inveterate con artist, treats Elvis’s gift as mere grist for an all-out hoax, and Luhrmann invents a tremendously chilling meeting between the two in a carnival hall of mirrors: it’s delayed in the narrative for so long you wonder if you’re doing it missed it. It’s not inconceivable that some will place this pantomimic, gripping goblin with his ambiguous European-American ridge uncomfortably close to an anti-Semitic caricature. But it feels unfortunate rather than actively unmusical, especially since there’s no evidence Parker was Jewish.
The 30-year-old butler works without cosmetic support — or any safety net beyond the sheer power of his talent — whose keen instinct for melodrama and burn-the-screen-down charisma lend his Elvis a mid-century method-acting rawness . It’s not so much a Presley impersonation as Presley on James Dean, and the presence of this actor – whose rogue credibility Elvis envies – hovers over the film. There’s a terrific sequence in which the temporarily washed-up Elvis broods in front of the rusting Hollywood sign, while the Griffith Observatory — like a prominent feature in Dean’s 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause — looms like a mirage on the other side of the river valley shimmers.
Even the intense cherry red of Elvis’ trailer interior seems to channel Dean’s jacket in that earlier film—a symbol of the spirit that Elvis also originally embodied before becoming a commodity. Luhrmann’s film is in many ways a brazen crowd pleaser itself, but the same subversive blood runs in its veins.
Cert tbc, 159 mins. In UK cinemas from Friday 24 June
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/elvis-review-cant-help-falling-love-baz-luhrmanns-jukebox-epic/ you can’t help falling in love with Baz Luhrmann’s jukebox epic