Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) and fronted by Austin Butler (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood...), Elvis takes us through the highest selling solo artist's life through exploration of his relationship with manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). Luhrmann proves to be the man for the job, as Elvis is full of glitz, glam, music and love, though it loses it's way slightly during the second act, making its 159 minute run-time feel noticeable.
Written by Becca Johnson / June 29, 2022
Luhrmann is often described as being like marmite – you either love him or you hate him. Wherever you may sit, there is no denying that his artistic style is perfect to tell the story of Elvis Presley – Hollywood, glamour, music and dance are the main themes of the movie, which lend themselves well to Baz' style. The director hasn't held back, utilising his outrageously glamorous and contemporary style in the best way possible. We have montages, musical mash-ups, bright colours, slow motion shots and close ups. There's never just one thing happening on the screen – it's busy, loud and in your face but in the best way possible. It's a well made film, and a great looking one at that.
The plot is both a strength and a weakness of Elvis. On one hand, it's interesting to explore the star through his relationship with Colonel Tom Parker, an individual who audiences will likely not know much about. It manages to depict how Presley was used and abused by his manager, who held the singer back from doing what he truly wanted purely because it didn't serve his best interests. Elvis had to tame his dancing and signature style back not only through fear of getting in trouble with the law, but because Parker wanted him to keep making him money – that was his main concern, and the movie let's us know that. We get some great discourse and plot points through this perspective, but it's also hard not to feel as though the movie takes the limelight away from it's title character at times. Parker is undeniably interesting and it teaches you a lot of the behind the scenes info through his character, but Elvis Presley is who we're really here for – he's far more interesting.
If you're expecting the movie to delve into the controversial side of Elvis Presley and give us an insight into his bad attributes, you're in the wrong place. Luhrmann's Elvis is a celebration. A celebration of life, music, dance, soul, R 'n' B, showmanship, dedication and most importantly, love. It doesn't deny Presley's wrongdoings, but it doesn't explore them either. Instead, we get a look into the singers inspiration, key moments in his life that shaped him as an individual such as losing his Mother, his early influences to music and his allyship with the people who inspired him. It paints him out to be more of a civil rights advocate than he truly was – he purely just wanted to make his own music and dance his own dance – but the movie shows him at his best. We get an insight into his relationship with Priscilla, but not in the way we've been exploring it in recent years. Whether you agree with how the movie tackles the star or not, it made for an emotional and often inspirational piece of film that celebrates rather than tears down.
Elvis clocks in at a whopping 159 minutes, some of which is paced well, and some of which slightly drags. It's an incredibly fast-paced movie, always giving something to feast your eyes upon. It shoots through his life at lightning speed, packing in as much as it can, which creates a fun filled yet underdeveloped whistle stop tour. It slightly loses its way around the middle, the first act easily being the most compelling section, but it manages to keep its upbeat pace throughout with a nice final half an hour of reflection. Once again, enjoyment boils down to whether or not the audience can appreciate Luhrmann's style. For some, it'll be an attack on the senses, but others will be along for the ride from start to finish.
Elvis is a biopic, meaning one thing can make or break it; it's performances. To put it simply, Austin Butler hands in the best performance of the year thus far. He completely transforms, giving everything to the role; he is undeniably Elvis. He looks the part, sounds the part and dances the part, giving a star making performance that's bound to give him the boost he deserves. An Oscar nod and a fantastic career are the least he deserves. Olivia DeJonge (The Visit) is a great Priscilla, giving a career best performance, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Waves) impresses as B. B. King even with minimal screen time. Unfortunately, the least believable performance comes from Tom Hanks. His Colonel Tom Parker leaves much to be desired, and it's not always easy to fully get behind his character.
Elvis is a strong effort from everyone involved, and is worth watching for Butler alone; he is a star. It's a wild ride that will undoubtedly provide fun, laughter and toe-tapping happiness. It showcases Elvis at his best, whether that be his music or his life in general. The performance scenes are easily the movies highlight, and luckily there's plenty of them, covering every banger from Hound Dog to Suspicious Minds. It's also very Luhrmann, impressing in aesthetic, style and sound. It's a little too long and may not give us a very introspective Elvis or compelling Hanks performance, but it's a great tribute to one of the world's most genius musicians that deserves to be seen on the big screen.