The King’s wife: Cailee Spaeny in ‘Priscilla’.
PRISCILLA ***1/2 (110 minutes) M
In what is easily her best film since her 2003 hit Lost in Translation, Sophia Coppola presents a superbly directed, subdued portrait of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Cailee Spaeny), from her initial encounter with mega pop star Elvis (Jacob Elordi) as a prepubescent army brat living in Germany to her turbulent domestic life where she had to cope with long absenses, bouts of infidelity and varying degrees of abuse.
Brandishing her signature style that prefers deft touches to in-your-face theatrics, Coppola imbues her evocative portrait of Priscilla with rich character nuance and subtle detail as she grows into a life of fame, celebrity, drugs and firearms.
The lead performances are top-shelf; Spaeny tacitly signals how Priscilla’s dream marriage slowly turned sour while Elordi reveals the underside of Elvis, the early signs of his sensitivity and love of traditional values slowly giving way to a darker side as his fame swelled.
Coppola adapted the screenplay from the 1985 memoir Elvis and Me by Priscilla Presley, who is credited as an executive producer on the film. We can only speculate what bearing she had on the production, but the piece certainly breathes with emotional authenticity.
The film also serves as a timely, stylistic counterpoint to Baz Luhrmann’s fabulously over-the-top 2022 biopic spectacle Elvis. While Luhrmann’s film was composed of big, loud strokes, Coppola’s Priscilla is more intimate portraiture made up of smaller, quieter strokes of the cinematic brush. The two films make good companion pieces.
OOPS As fine as Priscilla is, there’s a sizeable blooper.
In one tense scene where Elvis is listening to song submissions he gets angry at Priscilla and lobs a chair at her, leaving a big bash in the wall next to her. A moment later Elvis joins her in the frame and the damage has disappeared. Makes you wonder how such a glaring continuity flub got through all those test screenings.
THE BEEKEEPER *** (101 minutes) MA
Taking yet another leaf from the Charles Bronson Angel of Vengeance Playbook, Jason Statham puts in another steely, straight-faced, laconic performance, this time as Adam Clay, a retired secret agent whose quiet, contented life as a beekeeper is disrupted when a dear friend is fleeced by scammers.
She was the only person who ever cared for him, he says several times in the opening reel, so he taps into his secret network, locates the villains responsible and pays their office a visit with two cans of petrol and a lighter.
Reducing one building to a smouldering ruin isn’t enough, of course, so Clay continues his crusade, not knowing how far his violent quest will take him but knowing it will involve plenty of shooting, stabbing, bone snapping, close-quarters combat and, at one point early in the film, some finger lopping. Oww.
Entwined in Clay’s romp is conflicted FBI Agent Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman), the daughter of Eloise (Phylicia Rashad), the woman who cared for Clay. She’s supposed to be working to stop Clay’s killing spree, but her heart doesn’t seem to be in it.
With Statham wisely keeping well within his growling action-man limits, director David Ayer (Fury; Suicide Squad) dutifully lays on slabs of well-mounted mayhem.
Eventually Statham resorts to using firearms but it’s interesting how for much of the film he prefers to dispatch bad guys manually, disarming them before disassembling their weapons. It might well have been unintentional but it’s still a nice touch.
Jeremy Irons and Josh Hutcherson kick in with good support as a father-and-son duo of corporate thugs.
Through them we learn of how Clay, as well as being an actual beekeeper, was part of “The Beekeepers”, a clandestime team of agents modelled on bees and their devotion to protecting the hive.
That this theme is hammered repeatedly in the third act suggests how the film strays into taking itself a little too seriously – there’s nary a decent gag in the whole thing – but, meh, it works.
The Beekeeper is standard Statham action fare that leaves little room for complaint, even when Shakespeare’s all-too-familiar line from Hamlet inevitably works its way into the proceedings.