Despite living in an age where monikers such as ‘icon’ and ‘legend’ are dished out clumsily to often unworthy recipients, one can attach such titles to the subject of Baz Luhrmann’s latest film without fearing they too have adopted the hyperbolic tendencies of their contemporaries. Elvis is a not unfamiliar tale of rise and fall told through the eyes not of the man himself, but his manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), in a comparable fashion to the way in which Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway told the story of the title character in Luhrmann’s 2013 film, The Great Gatsby.
While Luhrmann’s narrator in Gatsby spoke of the film’s subject in awe and curiosity, Colonel Parker is a markedly more nefarious presence, a man who immediately views Elvis as a walking gold mine, a precious resource from which every last ounce of profit must be extracted while the going is good. Predictably, such an attitude cannot coexist with a healthy regard for a person’s wellbeing and while Parker’s laser-focused approach propels Elvis to superstardom and astronomical levels of wealth, it also turns out to be his ruin. Manipulated by Parker into shunning a world tour and taking up a five-year Las Vegas residency, Elvis finds himself trapped; a man who for all his talent, fame, and fortune, is at the mercy of his boss, with little more autonomy than he had in his days as a truck driver, prior to fame. And it is only when he tries desperately to reclaim ownership of his life as everything is crumbling around him that he realises the full extent of Parker’s treachery.
It is an all too familiar story of a generational talent being used and exploited by the morally bankrupt in the name of profit. A story that tells of the joy and beauty of talent and the heartlessness of the business that surrounds its management. 45 years on from Elvis’ death, one would like to think the practices of those involved in talent management have changed. But one look at how human beings have continued to exploit at every possible opportunity in the intervening years, with our treatment of the natural world being a case in point, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which the latest emerging superstar within the music industry isn’t simply viewed by the dealmakers as the ripest fruit on the talent tree, ready to be picked and squeezed for all it is worth.
Portraying the destructive nature of a profit first, consequences second approach, the film’s release in the midst of an ever-worsening climate crisis seems apt.