From the catchy Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, the heart-wrenching Candle In The Wind through to the cinematic masterpiece Can You Feel The Love Tonight, Elton John has wowed music lovers with hit after hit since his first album was released to the public back in 1969.
Despite his popularity, it’s very rare that many people could tell you much about the life of Reginald Kenneth Dwight, the man behind the Elton John persona. Sure, there have been news headlines about his lavish lifestyle and his very public relationship with his husband David Furnish, but what the tabloids and John’s fans haven’t always been aware of is the pain felt by the man who always seemed to smile when on stage. The drug abuse and the fractured relationships were kept behind closed doors. It’s for that reason that Rocketman becomes one of the most important films released this year.
From the creative mind of director Dexter Fletcher, who also recently directed a large chunk of the award-winning Bohemian Rhapsody, comes a warts-and-all look at John. Nothing is hidden here at all. Screenwriter Lee Hall (who also wrote films such as Billy Elliott and War Horse) takes the audience on a journey through John’s life, showing them the cruel and almost non-existent relationship he had with his father (played here by Steven Mackintosh), the moment his life changed forever when he met his lifelong songwriting partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) through to the excessive lifestyle and drug abuse that almost ended with John dying in a swimming pool in front of his family and friends.
To Fletcher’s credit, Rocketman does all of this with a very unique twist. While the biggest weakness of Bohemian Rhapsody was the fact that the film seemed to just skirt over some of the issues in the life of the late, great Freddie Mercury, here Fletcher manages to delve deep into the emotional side of John’s life while keeping the film as flamboyant and loud as the man himself.
If you are expecting a dour drama as the more painful elements of John’s life are exposed for the audience to see – forget it! Instead Fletcher uses a little bit of creativity and has John pour out his life to a group of people in rehab, while moments of true drama and emotion are intercut with loud, colourful dreamscapes. The singer’s biggest hits are performed with theatrical sequences that wouldn’t be out of place during a big Broadway production.
In many ways, it’s a stroke of genius from Fletcher. Yes, some may criticise the film for taking on so many elements of a stage production, but given how entertaining and creative Fletcher is with the style aspect of the film, it ends up working remarkably well and mirrors the flamboyant actions of the man at the centre of the film.
What also makes Rocketman work so perfectly is, without a doubt, the casting. While some were sceptical, before even seeing the film, of the choice of young actor Taron Egerton to play the role of Elton John, his performance should easily silence those critics and shows Hollywood that he’s undoubtedly a star on the rise. While mainly known for his action performances in films like Robin Hood and of course the Kingsman franchise, here Egerton is asked to go out of his comfort zone and instead dance and sing while, at times, also delivering truly deep, emotional moments of intense acting when it’s called for him to do so.
Egerton is also well supported with some stellar performances by his co-stars. Bryce Dallas Howard is almost unrecognisable as John’s mother while Jamie Bell delivers some moments of true dramatic tension in his role as Bernie Taupin.
Game Of Thrones fans will not be disappointed by the work of Richard Madden who here plays the unlikable John Reid, Elton John’s former romantic partner. While watching Madden, it becomes very obvious that just like Egerton he is on the verge of becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Rocketman is a truly sensational film. The mere fact that it can tell the story of an at times tortured artist like Elton John while still managing to have its audience tap their feet and sing along to some of his most recognisable tunes is a feat in itself.
The film showcases why Dexter Fletcher needs to be considered one of the most interesting directors around at the moment while paying a true tribute to a man whose life, for the most part, has had its sadder moments kept well and truly in the shadows.
Creative in the way it is presented on the big screen and with an amazing portrayal of Elton John by an actor that is likely to earn an Oscar nomination, Rocketman is the type of film you just sit back and savour.
David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus