- Tom Hanks, Austin Butler, Olivia DeJonge
- Buz Luhrmann
- Biography, Drama, Musical
- 2h 39m
- Release date
- June 24, 2022
- Where to watch
Elvis is a biopic about one of the greatest entertainers in history, Elvis Aaron Presley, The King of Rock and Roll. It spans his 23-year-long career, beginning moments after his discovery in 1954 and ending with his tragic death in August 1977.
Elvis is a visual masterpiece with some of the most amazing cinematography and scene transitions that I’ve seen since…Moulin Rouge (another Baz Luhrman musical), which is actually its greatest strength and weakness. Every shot, every camera angle, the lighting, every scene’s composition, all of it is meticulous and beyond anything that any other director is doing nowadays. Lurhman masterfully captures the frenzied whirlwind of Elvis’s rise and fall and makes you feel like you’re on the verge of having a panic attack from the moment that Elvis is having his first panic attack all the way to his death.
Regrettably, in Luhrmann’s successful attempt at making high art, he placed a barrier between the audience and Elvis, played by Austin Butler, making it challenging to connect with the characters on any level other than that of The King’s sense of isolation and being overwhelmed. This is probably the feeling that Luhrmann was going for but it’s too much and too fast. So what we end up with feels more like a 2-hour 40-minute montage rather than a cohesive story. This is truly a shame because (back when the world was sane and The Academy Awards were merit-based) Butler could have easily won an Oscar and become a household name with this performance.
Simply put, he is amazing. There are several moments in the film when Elvis suddenly takes charge of the stage and Butler is mesmerizingly electrifying. His ability to capture The King’s grandeur without treating him like a caricature was only marred by Luhrmann’s ADD. In many ways, Butler’s performance reminded me of Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, not because there are any similarities between the characters or the films but because, in that film, Joaquin acts with his entire body and with such authenticity. Between the beats of a hummingbird’s wings and with total sincerity, his eyes, his body, and his entire demeanor would change, and Butler is like that in this movie. One moment, he’s so nervous that you think he might faint, in the next, we see/feel him find something within that has to get out and he explodes. There were moments that I, like the teen girls at Elvis’s concerts, nearly threw my underpants at the screen, and I’m a straight guy.
In the movie’s only relationship that’s given any time to breathe and develop, if only slightly, Tom Hanks plays Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk, (aka Colonel Tom Parker), Elvis’s manager. Parker is a Dutch immigrant and carnival promoter who immediately sees Elvis’s potential as well as all of the weaknesses with which he can manipulate him. He’s a shrewd and conniving man who serves himself to the detriment and, ultimately, the early death of his meal ticket.
Hanks, of course, puts in his usual stellar performance, no small feat since he’s buried under heavy prosthetics and a fat suit throughout the film. However I, like many, found his accent to be distracting, especially in the beginning. That being said, this is Tom friggin Hanks we’re talking about, so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and suspend my disbelief for the duration of the picture. Afterward, however, I lept headfirst down the YouTube rabbit hole. Apparently, Parker would speak with either a southern accent or his native Dutch, depending on the situation. As you can hear in the following clip that I found, Hanks sounds within the ballpark of the real thing. It was probably a wise decision to stick to a single accent throughout. In a movie that seemed to only incidentally allows any character development, and jumps from one scene to the next faster than a middle-aged barfly jumps from bed to bed, it would have been far more confusing for Parker to suddenly shift accents without sufficient time to explain.
There’s a handful of other characters in the film who aren’t worth mentioning, not because they were performed poorly, quite the opposite. Everyone gives a great performance but as I’ve already mentioned, we aren’t given enough time to care.
As a whole, I really liked this film. It had some warts but the craftsmanship exhibited alone, is nearly enough to forgive them.
One of the inherent benefits of a biopic about Elvis is that Presley pretty much stayed out of politics, and his cultural involvement was limited to his own. So, there really isn’t much to complain about. Race, race relations, and racism are themes in the movie but they aren’t used as cudgels. The film takes place at a time when segregation was alive and well and race relations were being redefined, and talking about racism in film isn’t intrinsically woke. The wokeness of racism in film comes about when filmmakers manufacture it where it doesn’t exist, or help move the narrative forward. Elvis was in trouble with the law due to his use of, what was referred to as, “negro rhythms,” etc. He did grow up in the projects and almost certainly had black friends, and was unarguably influenced by the black popular culture of the time.
However, there was one blink-an-eye-and-miss-it moment of wokeness in the film. In his first time on national television, The King’s gyrating gets the girls in the studio audience, as well as those watching at home, all hot and bothered, and the filmmakers squeeze in a teenage boy reacting as well.
James Carrick is a passionate film enthusiast with a degree in theater and philosophy. James approaches dramatic criticism from a philosophic foundation grounded in aesthetics and ethics, offering insight and analysis that reveals layers of cinematic narrative with a touch of irreverence and a dash of snark.