The King of Rock and Roll has arrived on the big screen. The past few years have given us fictionalized looks at the lives of Freddie Mercury, Elton John, and Aretha Franklin. Now, it’s time for the biggest name in rock and roll to receive his Hollywood treatment in Elvis, a musical drama capturing the life of Elvis Presley from the perspective of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). A two-hour-39-minute epic about a legendary musician is brought to the screen with fascinating results in a grand, well-performed film that can sometimes get too ambitious for its own good.
Baz Luhrmann co-writes and directs this film in a way only he could. Having previously directed films like Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby, Luhrmann brings every bit of those films’ style into Elvis. His overbearing visuals and insane camera movements are what make this film special, with the crash zooms and unique transitions serving as the ultimate mixed bag. Parts of the film are pretty impressive, but others feel like a bewildering attack on the senses, with some overblown moments designed to unnecessarily emphasize dramatic moments.
His directing style elevates what would otherwise be a standard biopic. But does the movie deliver everything that an Elvis biopic should? In some ways, it absolutely does. Portraying a rock star of his caliber is no easy task, and who should the film cast but the guy from Aliens in the Attic, Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure, and season four of Zoey 101? Austin Butler is far from a household name, and he was going up against more established actors such as Miles Teller, Harry Styles, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. For Hollywood to cast a less bankable actor like him was a risk, and one that paid off in volumes.
Butler is electric. He gives a show-stopping performance as Presley, nailing every single part of the famed musician. His speaking voice, his singing voice, and his dancing all feel like the King of Rock and Roll reincarnated in a star turn for the actor, who channels his role perfectly. His rock-star presence and phenomenal energy make Butler a revelation, and if he wasn’t a household name before, everyone should know his name now. He deserves every bit of praise for all of the preparation that went into taking on this role, and it’s easy to forgive his lack of physical resemblance to Presley with a jaw-dropping performance like this.
Tom Hanks is also impressive in this film. Having spent decades generally playing nice guys and heroes, Hanks takes a more antagonistic turn as Parker, Presley’s manager who had a significant impact on his career. His prosthetics and accent can make this feel like a hammy, over-the-top role, but you truly forget that Hanks is considered one of the nicest men in Hollywood as he sinks his teeth into this character. The casting is excellent across the board, with Olivia DeJonge and Helen Thomson nailing their supporting roles, and a well-cast Chaydon Jay, who plays Elvis as a child and looks the part to a tee.
The movie does an excellent job of illustrating the relationship between Presley and Parker. Where the movie suffers is telling the rest of Presley’s story, with many elements, such as his romantic relationship with Priscilla and his relationship with his mother, getting briefly touched upon and not much more. This rings true when Kacey Musgraves’s cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” plays over a romantic scene rather than a scene where Presley could have performed it for his wife. Luhrmann’s style can be the film’s greatest asset and liability, a point that is illustrated perfectly by the strange choice to combine “Hound Dog” with a modern Doja Cat song and play it over a scene set decades in the past.
Elvis works best when Luhrmann taps into his ability to craft an uplifting musical experience. He and Butler perfectly capture the spirit of a Presley concert with the leg dancing and the screaming fans. It’s wild that a 159-minute movie still makes you feel like parts of Presley’s life were rushed through, but it’s a movie that sucks you into a visual style unlike any other. There are many well-edited sequences contrasted by other parts where the directing is distracting. But with an energetic performance from Butler and a distinct filmmaking voice, Elvis will have you humming “Suspicious Minds,” “Trouble,” and “Unchained Melody” long after you’ve left the building.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7 equates to “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.