King movie poster

Director and co-writer Eugene Jarecki’s documentary tells the story of Elvis Presley in America — or rather, Elvis Presley as America. To wit: a youthful phenomenon, the likes of which the world had never seen, rocketing up from humble, hardscrabble beginnings into the stratosphere on the strength of talent, energy, and a troubling relationship with black labor. Still: a wonder to behold, until the money takes over, the war takes its toll, and decadence takes hold. And there’s more, lots of it: the push West, the obsession with image, the loss of way, the death of the Dream. Jarecki isn’t coy about the parallel; at one point, he openly discusses it with a member of his crew, one of the guys helping him tour Presley’s gorgeous old Rolls Royce around the nation, stopping along the way to pick up a host of musicians, actors, and commentators on King and country. Nor is he subtle, or gentle, or modest in his ambition: toward the end, he juxtaposes the Shock and Awe of the Iraq War with Elvis’ last-hurrah performance of “Unchained Melody.” The insistence may inspire a furrowed brow here, a rolled eye there, and a shaken fist or knowing nod over yonder, but there’s enough earnest comment and good music to make the effort worth seeing and chewing over. 2017.

Matthew Lickona

This movie is not currently in theaters.


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