Directed by: Baz Luhrmann

Written by: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner

Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh

Rating: [3.5/5]

Hollywood has proven one thing throughout its history; if something works they will attempt to recreate its success over and over again until the returns diminish exponentially. One genre having its day in regard to success is the biopic centered on musical icons. With their exceptional talent and the general way music touches people’s souls, creating films displaying what makes these individuals special gets the job done for audience members. While most of these films can be seen as formulaic and disposable, those that bring a distinctive style, like Elvis, deserve praise for standing out. 

Having the desire to perform in a way deemed controversial, Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) has a definitive style and when he connects with Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) he rises to a level of fame he could never imagine. However, with the expectations of fame and the tribulations that come with it, he becomes to slip along with the demands put upon him by those surrounding him. 

At this point, you have to look under a rock to find a music icon that has not had some sort of biopic centering around them. When these films get created they grab an actor and add some jaw-dropping makeup on them to create an uncanny resemblance. It presents the illusion of seeing these individuals again in their prime and it can easily be beloved. Heck, the film does not even have to be good because the magic comes from the recreation of individuals who mean so much to people. We have all seen Bohemiam Rhapsody, we know these films do not have to be good. Elvis has remained an icon for decades since his rise and thankfully for his inevitable biopic, Baz Luhrmann was at the helm, which makes the formulaic aspects much more enjoyable. 

Love him or hate him, Baz Luhrmann makes films the way he wants to and you’ll never not know you’re experiencing one of his movies. From the frantic nature found in the editing to the bombastic opulence on display on the screen, he was the perfect person to make a film about Elvis and this film very much proves that assertion. So much of this feature works so well, especially when it digs into the rise of Elvis yet the feature comes with some head-scratching flaws that do not allow it to succeed to the degree it could have. Beautiful highs and some strange lows all leading to the eventuality that this is a Baz Luhrmann film through and through. 

As a performer, Elvis certainly raised some eyebrows and had others sharpening their pitchforks due to the sexuality he brought to his performance. Admittedly tame to today’s performers, the hip gyrations Elvis made famous, even if he did not invent it, make for a fascinating exploration. Sure, this feature goes through the formulaic rise and fall but several nuggets like this one spread out interspersedly allow for something more than just recreating famous performances. The moments surrounding this theme dig into one of the larger observations about Elvis as a performer and a man, which proved to be his passion for what he did and the impact he had on others. Whether it be providing women a feeling they never thought they would express in a public setting or recognizing the power of his words on an international stage when it came to current events. 

This film also does the right thing in displaying how much of his influence came from Black performers in his hometown. He utilized their style of music for his own gain but remained in reverence for how it makes people feel just like it did for him at the very beginning. This “borrowing” from Black artists has remained one of the larger controversies surrounding Elvis’s legacy, other than the relationship he had with a child. This film tackles it straight on, which allows for a much richer experience. 

As mentioned before, there is good and bad in this feature just like every Luhrmann film and when it came to this narrative, it revolves around Colonel Tom Parker being the narrator of this story. A common theme of the true enemies of these music icons is the detrimental impact of their managers. Those no-talent con artists who push the musical geniuses to the brink physically and emotionally while taking a percentage of the earnings. Elvis takes the peculiar approach of having him hold the perspective of the story, which does not render good results. It also certainly does not help that it all comes from Tom Hanks doing a weird accent and under a concerning amount of makeup to a cartoonish degree. Certainly a different approach but one that took time away from delving deeper into the central figure and more about how Parker felt justified in everything he did and talking about snow jobs for an obscene amount of time. 

Even when biopics are bad, they allow for a showcase performance for the actor portraying the icon and my goodness did Austin Butler impress. Throughout this film, there were moments and shots that I could not discern there was an actor on screen. Cliche as it may sound, Butler felt like Elvis through this performance and he savors and chews up this sweaty and seductive role. He brings the charisma needed to portray the legendary musical icon and reached a level I had no idea he could reach. A defining performance so early in his career and I hope he continues to get even better. 

Elvis hits every note you would expect but the reverence this feature has for the icon as well as depicting the impact he had on those who consumed his music makes this such a refreshing biopic. It allows for Luhrmann’s flashiness and combines it with Butler’s charismatic performance that makes for something incredibly enjoyable even if the runtime makes it feel both weirdly rushed and overly long at the same time somehow. A good kind of mess with many peaks and valleys, but serves as a template for other biopics to follow.

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