TL;DR – A film that is equal parts electric, chaotic, and uncomfortable
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I was invited to a press screening of this film
Elvis Review –
If there is one genre that has exploded across the screen in recent years, it is the Biopic. Everyone from Aretha Franklin to the Sparkes Brothers and all in between being brought to life in a dramatic presentation or documentary. Given the strengths of these films, it was only a matter of time before someone would attempt to contextualise the life of the “King of Rock and Roll”. This would be no easy task given the life and death of Elvis and the legacy he has left in the world. Today we look at a film that might still be flawed in many ways, but it excels in capturing his energy and passion.
So to set the scene, we open in the 1990s, and a frail Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) wants us to know the story of Elvis (Chaydon Jay), well, the story that he wants to tell. From here, we jump back in time as Elvis (Austin Butler), a young boy who discovers the power of music and movement and who incorporates it into his world. As he grows older, his sound spreads around the south when Parker runs a travelling show. Watching one show, Parker knew the skinny kid in the pink suit would be a star, and he needed to get in on the ground floor before someone else grabbed his meal ticket.
Before we go any further, we need to talk about the elephant in the room, which is the sheer charisma that was Austin Butler’s performance. Austin captured every essence of Elvis: his mannerisms, voice, soul, and voice. Every time he sings, you feel this electric power from first his music and his performance that rolls over you in waves, and you cannot help but be moved along with the sound. This is elevated even more when we see him perform on the stage, and you feel the power Elvis had somewhere in your heart and why he was as popular as he was. But with those incredible highs comes great lows, and your heart breaks as you see this slow decline. Being able to capture such extremes yet bring it into a performance that feels whole is a skill I have rarely seen done as well as it is here.
While Austin brings Elvis into this world in the movie, many technicians and artists bring the world of the 50s into being. We whip through so much history in this film, from the backwaters of Mississippi in the 1940s, the glitzy veneer of Las Vegas in the 1970s, and heck, even military bases in Germany. This all works because of all the small details in the world, the cars, the hair, and the clothes. On that front, a special mention must be made for the costume designers who brought everyone one of Elvis’ iconic outfits to life. You needed the glitz and glamour to be on point so that it could become the needed juxtaposition to the rest of the story, and on this front, the film delivers.
Where things don’t work as well is the counterpoint to Austin Butler, and that is Tom Hanks’ performance of Col. Tom Parker. I am not sure if this was Tom’s performance, how the director wanted him to take it, or maybe something that got lost in the edit, but the character of Tom Parker did not work. For me, it was using him as the framing device for the film that left a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t mind the concept of the unreliable narrator, but much like I, Tonya, I find it deeply uncomfortable when a film tries to muddy the waters around abuse. I know this might be a ‘me issue’ because there was a wide-ranging discussion about it after the screening I went to, with wildly different views. However, I can only talk about my experience, and it took me out of the film on several occasions. Also, I am not the person best qualified to talk about this, but it felt like the movie didn’t do the best job of exploring the intersection of Elvis and African American musical culture.
In the end, do we recommend Elvis? Is it a perfect film? No. Is it a wildly engaging film? Absolutely. Austin’s performance, along with a solid supporting cast, costuming, and a sound that echoed through my soul, all make this a hard recommend. If you liked Elvis, I would recommend to you Rocketman.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Elvis
Directed by – Baz Luhrmann
Screenplay by – Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce & Jeremy Doner
Story by – Baz Luhrmann & Jeremy Doner
Music by – Elliott Wheeler
Cinematography by – Mandy Walker
Edited by – Matt Villa & Jonathan Redmond
Production/Distribution Companies – Bazmark Films, The Jackal Group & Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring – Austin Butler, Chaydon Jay, Tom Hanks, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge, Luke Bracey, Natasha Bassett, David Wenham, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Samuel, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Leon Ford, Kate Mulvany, Josh McConville, Yola Quartey, Alton Mason, Gary Clark Jr., Christopher Sommers, Nicholas Bell, Anthony LaPaglia, Dacre Montgomery, Christian Kisando, John Mukristayo, Miles Burton, Gad Banza, Adam Dunn, Terepai Richmond, Patrick Shearer, Liz Blackett, Cle Morgan & Shonka Dukureh.