Visionary director Baz Luhrmann – responsible for stone cold movie classics like Moulin Rouge, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and The Great Gatsby – tackles the greatest rock and roll superstar of all time in this absorbing and well-made biopic. You can imagine the mammoth task of trying to collate the King’s life into just one movie, and ‘Elvis’ certainly takes this challenge head-on to mixed effect, but regardless of scope, this is a very heartfelt and enthralling movie that needs to be seen on the big screen.
Starring Austin Butler as the king himself Elvis Presley, the film tells the entire story of his life from the rise of the legend right through to his death in 1977. Butler is first and foremost, an absolute joy to watch. This is an Oscar-worthy turn that encapsulates everything you’d hope the performance would. And crucially that’s what Butler delivers – a performance and not an impression. His turn is exceptionally well played. It’s extremely tricky to pull off playing Elvis, let alone playing him at different stages of his life. He has the swag, the charisma and the sheer magnetism to completely sell the role, and his singing is pitch-perfect. The first time we see a young Elvis play a county fair, Austin immediately commands the screen, with Luhrmann doing a sensational job in visualising the hysteria of the women in the audience as they struggle to comprehend their emotions whilst seeing Elvis strut his stuff. It’s a fantastic sequence, perhaps the film’s best.
I’m a huge fan of Baz Luhrmann’s work, and he brings his unmistakable brand of glamour and glitz to this movie. It’s energetic throughout, keeping the audience hooked during its mammoth 2hr 39min runtime. But as you can imagine, that isn’t nearly enough time to tell the complete story of Elvis. I can’t help but feel that this should have been a 3-part event-series to really take the time to delve into all aspects of his remarkable story. Too much is glossed over in fast montages to get to the next dramatic sequence, which I understand is a requirement to tell this story in under 3 hours, but it left me wanting more. Some of these life moments were big parts of Elvis’ life too so they should have been given the appropriate time onscreen. That’s the first issue with the film.
The second issue is far more damaging, and that’s Tom Hanks portrayal of Colonel Tom Parker. Hanks is a brilliant actor – that isn’t in question. But his choice for this particular role is baffling. Wearing extensive, and in my opinion, very bad looking prosthetics to make him a bigger man just doesn’t work on any level. It’s massively distracting and constantly takes you out of the film. The choice to have him narrate the movie is very strange too. Early on, his narration in-character states that he isn’t the villain in the story of Elvis’ demise. Usually with that kind of an opening, you’re expecting the film to reveal the real story of Parker – perhaps he’s a misunderstood man unfairly characterised as a bad guy all these years. Then you see the story and read up on his life and you are in no doubt – he absolutely was the bad guy. He’s exactly as described and responsible for a lot of the bad situations Elvis found himself in. So why have his narration on-top of the film? It serves no logical narrative purpose whatsoever.
With an all-star ensemble attached too, including Richard Roxburgh, Luke Bracey, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Kodi Smit-McPhee and Dacre Montgomery, ‘Elvis’ is full of exceptional talent. But Olivia DeJonge’s performance as Priscilla is wonderful. Her chemistry with Butler sparkles with verve and passion, and when their relationship starts to crumble, you feel genuine remorse. She’s a huge talent to keep an eye out for in the future.
‘Elvis’ is a solid attempt at an impossible task of accounting for the full life of an icon. There’s just too much narrative to get onscreen to do his legend justice. And the Tom Hanks problem is one that can’t be ignored because it’s so distracting. Ultimately though, ‘Elvis’ is full of fantastic performances and toe-tapping hits, led by a truly sensational leading turn by Austin Butler. He is worth awards-season gold for carrying such a massive weight of expectation on his shoulders, and delivers one of the greatest leading turns we’ve seen in cinema for a decade. He is that good – which means you absolutely won’t want to miss seeing this King on the big screen.
Cast: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Richard Roxburgh, Luke Bracey, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Kodi Smit-McPhee and Dacre Montgomery Director: Baz Luhrmann Writer: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner Certificate: 12A Duration: 160 mins Released by: Warner Bros Release date: 24th June 2022