Elvis Review

I think it’s important for me to say right off the start that I’ve not really been the biggest Elvis fan. I think his music is good, but he hasn’t had the same impact on me that other musicians had. That said, from what I know about Elvis’ life, there is plenty of material there for a compelling biopic. Even then, there is the risk of the film falling into a lot of the traps of biopics without anything to make it stand out. In this instance though, the involvement of Baz Luhrmann does bring with it expectations of it standing out visually, and the film does achieve this, but does still fall into the biopic traps.

The film follows the entirety of the career of Elvis Presley, going from his initial rise through music and the moral panic that followed, to his time in the army, his Hollywood career, the 1968 Comeback Special and his Vegas residency. The way the film presents this though gives it what could have been a unique angle, by coming from the perspective of Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker. There is a bit of an Amadeus style idea at play through the film coming from Parker’s perspective, but aside from the opening and a few moments scattered throughout the film, it doesn’t really take advantage of that idea. By focusing on the entirety of Elvis’ career, it means that there are important elements that are glossed over and it feels like an incomplete look at Elvis. In particular, I didn’t feel like the relationship between Elvis and his wife Priscilla was properly explored, especially given the age she was when they first met. That said, when the film works, it works really well, and that’s mainly in the first half. As the film follows the rise of Elvis, this is where I found the film to be at its most compelling and the relationship between Elvis and Parker in this is what gives the film a lot of its power.

The performances as well add to the power of the film. Austin Butler is exceptional as Elvis. Other films like this, there is the risk of the performance becoming a parody and you see the actor rather than the musician. Here, Butler fully transforms himself into Elvis. Everything about his look, his voice and his movement just screams Elvis and, comparing Butler to the footage of Elvis shown at the end of the film, you see just how exact his performance as Elvis was. He sells the growing difficulties in addiction and creative/personal freedom in Elvis effectively and without him, the film would not have the same power. Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker meanwhile is a fairly complex performance. Hanks is able to show the the carnival huckster side of Parker well and how controlling he is, demonstrating how Parker’s control held back Elvis and caused numerous issues in his personal life. There is the idea raised that it was Parker’s influence that ultimately led to Elvis’ decline and death, but that isn’t properly covered. The way Hanks plays Parker also makes him a darkly comedic figure, mainly with his own decline, but never at the expense of the sinister side of Parker. There are attempts to make Parker a more rounded figure, but these moments are given enough attention to make them compelling.

The element that really makes this stand out though is the style of Baz Luhrmann. You know right from the first frame that this is a Luhrmann film and his frenetic, bombastic style works well for Elvis. The way that Luhrmann presents the rise of Elvis is really well done, creating the right feeling for how it must have felt when seeing Elvis for the first time and this, combined with Butler’s performance, creates some electric moments throughout the first half. There are also moments where Luhrmann changes the style to fit the events of the film, such as filming Elvis’ time in Hollywood in the style of one of his films, but these moments are a bit too few and far between. It’s this style that makes the film stand out and, unlike in Bohemian Rhapsody where the editing felt haphazard, the editing here is a perfect fit for the bombastic style of Luhrmann and I found myself really entertained by it throughout the film.

Overall, I found Elvis to be a pretty good film overall. By covering the entirety of Elvis’ career it falls into the music biopic traps, but when the film covers the rise of Elvis, the bombastic style of Baz Luhrmann and the incredible performance from Austin Butler make this a fun, entertaining film that encapsulates the feeling of Elvis effectively.

My Rating: 3.5/5

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