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elvis

★★★★

starring: austin butler, tom hanks, richard roxburgh, and olivia dejong

 

REVIEWER: lyall carter

Elvis Presley rises to fame in the 1950s while maintaining a complex relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

A thoroughly cinematic drama, Elvis’s (Butler) story is seen through the prism of his complicated relationship with his enigmatic manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Hanks).  As told by Parker, the film delves into the complex dynamic between the two spanning over 20 years, from Presley’s rise to fame to his unprecedented stardom, against the backdrop of the evolving cultural landscape and loss of innocence in America.  

 

In Cranwell Park in West Auckland New Zealand lies a nearly two meter high statue of Elvis Presley, commemorating his life and death. As far as I’m aware, Elvis had no connections with West Auckland at all. And here lies the problem any filmmaker faces when bringing the story of the King to the big screen. Elvis is globally known across countless societal divides. One of the most lucrative markets in Las Vegas is Elvis tribute acts, such is the fandom that still thrives for the King.

 

So an Elvis biopic has to approach its subject differently to other biopics. It has to hit a unique angle and the actor playing the role of Elvis can’t merely be a tribute act. He must become the man himself. But director Baz Luhrmann along with his lead Austin Butler have pulled off the miraculous. Elvis is a truly spectacular film with all the bombastic glitz and glamor you’d expect from director Baz Luhrmann, but with a tale packed with emotional punch after punch, all anchored by an Oscar worthy performance from Austin Butler.

 

The narrative trick that Luhrmann plays is that Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) narrates Elvis’s story. And it’s a stroke of genius because as Parker tells his version of the tale, we begin to see not only the growing tension between what Parker is telling us, the audience, and what we can really see going on, but the growing tension between Parker and Elvis. And as the film hurtles into the final act, Parker’s ever growing lies and struggle for control over Elvis comes further into the light. It’s truly heartbreaking seeing Elvis used and treated as some kind of circus geek that Parker and others around him use just to profit off him. The last scene of the film will really smack you in the feels.  

 

This film also looks and sounds incredible. From Elvis’s glamorous wardrobe of costumes to the downtown streets of Memphis all the way to Graceland itself, Elvis is a production design dream. The soundtrack is impressive as well, thundering throughout the cinema and transporting you to a completely different world. As well as using the songs of Elvis, Luhrmann masterfully uses, in a few quick cut shots, music to tell multiple parts of the narrative while also injecting some modern music and musical twists into the film. 

 

Austin Butler gives an Oscar worthy, career defining performance here as Elvis. It’s not merely an impersonation, he becomes Elvis. You believe it really is him. From the way he holds himself, dances, sings and even in the scenes where his mind, will, and body are broken from too much work and prescription meds, Butler brings a grounded humanity yet a real sense of Elvis's stardom that is truly striking to the role. He’s so superb that you forget that an actor of Tom Hanks’ caliber and talent is in the film as well.

 

Elvis is a truly spectacular film with all the bombastic glitz and glamor you’d expect from director Baz Luhrmann, but with a tale packed with emotional punch after punch, all anchored by an Oscar worthy performance from Austin Butler.

★★★★