Directed By Baz Luhrmann
Starring – Tom Hanks, Austin Butler, Olivia DeJonge
The Plot – From his childhood in Tupelo, Mississippi to his rise to stardom starting in Memphis, Tennessee and his conquering of Las Vegas, Nevada, Elvis Presley (Butler) becomes the first rock ‘n roll star and changes the world with his music.
Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, strong adult language, suggestive material and smoking
Similar to how Elvis blazed an irreplaceable presence through the annals of rock and roll, so too does Luhrmann’s impressionable footprint on the prominence of the film, dazzling audiences with a pageantry in spectacle that visually channels the radiance in electricity that made Presley as a commanding presence as a performer, all the while cementing “Elvis” as one of the best and most complete musical biopics that I’ve ever seen. Baz does this not only with a vibrance of color and personality in the depths of his various editing schemes, which with archived footage blends in seamlessly to the engagements of the dramatization sequences, but also in the ambition of the cinematography from Mandy Walker, who gradually grazes across many establishing shots and performance sequences with an immersive essence that feels like we’re interpreting what the audience in the show are experiencing. For those performances, the film has the daunting task of picking among a catalogue of passionate favorites from fans of the singer but does a remarkable job in the choices they make that lyrically possess a consciousness within the mentality of the singer for the time in the story they materialize. Beyond this, Luhrmann’s poignancy for the pen is equally as assertive on the prominence of the film, as this film completely evades musical biopic tropes in formulaic familiarity for a script that surprisingly transcends convention as a cautionary tale of sorts about the perils of fame. That’s not to say that the movie is tonally a drag, just that Luhrmann instead takes a responsible turn with the story he tells, conveying the whole picture not only in the bad choices that Presley made for himself that ultimately cost him his life, but also in the inspirational choices in his music that finally gives credit to the southern black musicians that he channeled in crossover appeal for a world still viciously segregated. It equally helps that the performances are off the chain, with Butler and Hanks transforming themselves visually and audibly for the sake of audience believability. For Hanks, that turn does feel slightly cartoonish when you’re first introduced to him, thanks in part to a prosthetic nose and foreign accent that feel ridiculous from Hanks, but soon those growing pains lean into Hanks’ abilities as a dramatic actor. Tom commands Colonel Parker not as an evil antagonist who lacks humanity, but rather a misguided promoter who is motivated solely by the almighty dollar. This moral dilemma is balanced out by Butler’s buzzworthy turn as the titular character, who completely evades preconceptional prejudice from this critic for a performance that will win over audiences the longer the film persists. Austin doesn’t exactly look like Elvis, at least not without the charms and cadence of impeccable prosthetics, but he sounds scarily identical to the late singer, both in speech and song, that he attains with the kind of credible nuance that allow him the believability of the character he’s possessing. Because of such, Butler’s turn never feels like an impression, but rather a transformation, affording him the success to tackle one of music’s most iconic personalities with a tangible authenticity that quickly allows him to evade any semblance of familiarity that could possibly keep us from seeing The King. Finally, though the film is blessed with an ambiance of signature style in its presentation, the production value of the film’s multi-decade period piece simply can’t be understated. Whether in the warmth in colorful vibrance of the many backdrops that vividly entice audiences with a music video signature style that Luhrmann has brought to his career as a filmmaker, or the three-dimensional versatility of the familiar threads of Elvis fashion, one thing is clear: this film did its homework, right down to the smallest detail. My personal favorites could certainly be the jumpsuits, with bejeweled brilliance radiating a sparkle and shine that dares you to take your eyes off of him, but honestly that pink suit during Elvis’ initial beginnings as an artist is sheer perfection, complimenting Butler’s complexion wonderfully while enamoring us in the designs of his character construct that audibly and visually conveys to the world the bold and brave presence that continuously broke convention.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the movie’s lengthy run time (154 minutes) does reap with it a problem to the storytelling, but not the one you would expect. Instead of this being a slow or plodding spin in storytelling, the film is actually paced uneven towards speedy, especially during a first act that covers four years over the span of the movie’s first twenty minutes. Because Luhrmann’s over bloated script is trying to capture thirty years in the life of Presley, it occasionally squeezes pivotal aspects tightly to the point they attain no semblance of importance to the film they’re adorning, with none more apparent than that of Priscilla’s arc. Once her character is given five minutes to show how her and Presley met and fell in love, she’s nothing but window dressing for the remainder of the film, underwhelming all the way to a last-minute heart tug that it never remotely earns or accomplishes with so little time along the way documenting their irresistible chemistry towards one another. Other times, arcs are set up then never followed through upon, like an inevitable confrontation between Elvis and Colonel Parker over a newfound Las Vegas contract, or Presley’s evolving addiction to pills, which only appears in moments it’s absolutely necessary. With the aforementioned generosity in run time allowance, there’s simply no reason the film couldn’t have balanced all of them, and even not, some of the excess weight kept in could definitely be trimmed with another script rewrite. Beyond this, the movie’s framing device through Parker and not Elvis is a bit of a mounting mistake the longer the film persists, with aspects of the storytelling not exactly lining up synthetically from the perspective of the man voicing them, especially considering much of the film makes Parker look terrible by his actions. It sets up a case for the promoter that early on conveys that the audience will see he’s not the villain of this story, before the next two and a half hours prove otherwise, leaving this a morally flat and unnecessary direction that would’ve been better played in real time instead of one big flashback.
Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” is an epically dizzying and at times overwhelming cinematic spectacle in the life of the rock icon, that, like Elvis, was made for the biggest stage possible to capture all of the spectacle. Though not everything rocks, Austin Butler is stellar as Elvis, giving us a star is born turn in ferocious fearlessness with all of the emotional and physical gravitas of a bigger than life transformation. Likewise, the humbling humanity of Luhrmann’s script, with much respect and a hunk of burning love entailed to the performer, peels back the curtain for a revealing insight into the rarely documented humanity of the man behind the legend that helps it evade formulaic tropes of the contemporary biopic age without any of the revisionist storytelling that has plagued previous Elvis efforts.
My Grade: 8/10 or B