(1979)4.5Mark DemingThere's something about Elvis Presley that seems to polarize people, especially today, when, more than two decades after his death, his absence in the present tense has caused common perception of him to evolve into a strange variety of clichés, with Elvis usually portrayed either as redneck saint or white-trash clown. However, John Carpenter's TV movie Elvis manages the increasingly rare feat of taking Elvis seriously as a human being, without dwelling excessively on his faults or trying to portray him as the world's most wonderful human being. While Anthony Lawrence's script fudges a few facts here and there (Elvis was not at his mother's bedside when she died) and misses a few details (where's the 1968 comeback special?), for the most part he recounts a familiar story with a surprising degree of enthusiasm and respect without becoming fawning, and Carpenter gets it on film with both efficiency and an admirable feel for time and place. Kurt Russell is a real surprise as Elvis; he not only gets Presley's trademark drawl and one-of-a-kind moves down with startling accuracy, he also manages to give a real sense of the tug of war between modesty and arrogance that truly defined the King's personality; it may well be the strongest and most affecting work of Russell's career. And while Shelley Winters lays it on a bit thick as his mother, Gladys, the performance can hardly be called historically inaccurate, and Season Hubley displays great chemistry with Russell as Priscilla Presley (apparently the chemistry wasn't mere professionalism, either, since they got married shortly after making the film). Elvis may not be a great movie -- its pace is a bit erratic and occasionally betrays its relatively low budget -- but it is a very good one, and one of the few films about one of the key cultural figures of the 20th century (love him or hate him, you have to give Elvis that much due) that shows a real understanding about what made him special, and that alone makes it well worth watching.