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Baz Lurhmann’s ELVIS (2022) Review

Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is ready to rock cinemas nationwide!

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Elvis (Warner Bros.)

Elvis Presley has entered the building. Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis has finally arrived and what a treat it is. Based on the films that I typically tend to gravitate towards… I was surprised that Elvis even appeared on my radar. But then I realised the profound influence Elvis’ music has had on my life, even subconsciously. My dad introduced me to Elvis when I was very young, and since then it has always been there. As a child, that appreciation for the King of Rock n’ Roll was reinforced, and I know it sounds silly, by Lilo & Stitch. With the release of Elvis, there was an opportunity to learn more about Elvis Presley as a figure. There was also a chance to be immersed in the societal period in which Presley thrived in. I simply couldn’t miss out on something like that. Especially knowing that it was from Baz Luhrmann, who had previously wowed us with Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby. Elvis’ story and legacy was in good hands.

Synopsis

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. Central to that journey is one of the significant and influential people in Elvis’s life, Priscilla Presley (Olivia DeJonge).

Review

I think the most important thing to discuss, especially in regards to a project like Elvis, is the story. As voyeuristic viewers who typically have very limited knowledge on the mechanics of show business as well as the personal life of a star, it’s very easy to be persuaded by the icon that is Elvis Presley. As someone who was born outside of Elvis’ career, I, for one, was absolutely clueless about the strained and problematic relationship Elvis had with Tom Parker, and the issues that sprouted from that toxic partnership later on. On top of that, I was completely unaware of the cultural impact Elvis had. Of course, everyone knows how big Presley was and is… But it’s always attributed to the positive side of his career; his music and personality. The fact that Elvis’ “gyrations” and musical choices caused a political uproar was utterly astonishing. However, these were elements that made Elvis who he was, and ultimately contributed to this incredible legacy. So, his story had to be carefully told in a way that didn’t discredit him in any way, but it also had to illuminate the demons Elvis was confronted with, whether it was his own or the ones born from the influence of the people surrounding him.

Elvis was a cinematic experience, but it was also a learning experience. Luhrmann’s ability to tell a rather complex story is masterful. Not only is the actual story fantastic, the way it unravels on a visual level is outstanding. There’s an element of playfulness to the way events play out which keeps the film fluid and fresh. Biopics tend to be very linear in their approach, but Elvis goes in the opposite direction by framing it as Tom Parker’s experience. The style in which this story is told feels very authentic in regards to the way Elvis would have wanted it. However, the shadow casted by Parker tends to invade every once in a while, clearly evoking the manipulation Elvis faced while under Parker’s control. It’s safe to say that Luhrmann’s interpretation of Elvis’ story honoured the life that the King had, while also highlighing issues surrounding society, race, as well as the industry that became Presley’s home. It’s a tragic story. But it is a story that respects Elvis’ orgins without it being diluted by the cinema experience. Of course, there are going to be certain omissions and decisions that exist to better serve the narrative, but as a whole it feels authentic, raw, and true.

Obviously, this movie would be nothing without the cast. Each and every one of them went above and beyond to embody the characters of this film. Whenever a biopic enters production, there is always a bit of tension, and let’s face it… Elvis is certainly a big one. There’s history there. Elvis is one of the most successful musicians ever, and his influence and power hasn’t weakened in any capacity. So, there were definitely some concerns when it came to casting the King himself. However, Austin Butler shines as Elvis. His performance is absolutely captivating. It’s as simple as that. Butler steals the show with his performance and it’s just incredible to watch his version of Elvis evolve. We’re covering the entirety of Elvis’ career and Butler does a fantastic job at showing this progression from a rising new star, to the unfortunate and heartbreaking state we find Elvis towards the end of his career. There’s a clear distinction between the star and the person, but there is also this war. Who and what is Elvis Presley, and that inner conflict is beautifully depicted.

As for Tom Hanks’ Tom Parker, well he’s the perfect villain, isn’t he? While this movie is undoubtedly about Elvis Presley, it is also about how Parker got his claws into the King. He’s manipulative, cruel, and desperate. It isn’t very often that we see Tom Hanks take on a role as the villain of the story, but perhaps it’s something he should do more often. There are so many times where he fools you into believing that he cares. But that simple belief is completely eviscerated when you learn that it was just another ploy to keep Elvis on his leash. Afterall, he was a con man, and a very good one. Tom Hanks is just fantastic as Parker. You instantly begin to despise him, and as the film goes on his attitude forces you to change the way you perceive Elvis Presley, both on screen and as a figure of admiration. Hank’s owns the role and despite his manipulate ways, he actually comes across very charming and fun. However, when the relationship begins to change, Parker’s claws are revealed and his ruthlessness is revealed for the audience to see. Parker is a detestable human being in Elvis, and Hanks’ portrayal adds to the tragedy as the film nears its end.

There is an element of truth regarding Tom Parker though. While Elvis had the talent, Parker has the necessary skills to put him on some of the biggest stages in the United States. Despite limiting Elvis to the US to further his own agenda, Elvis soon became a worldwide sensation, and part of that responsibility does fall on Parker, unfortunately. However, Parker’s obsessive and tyrannical ways does nothing to effect Elvis’ talent. There is a spine-tingling combination of talent in this film. From the singers who bring Memphis’ Beale Street to life, to the modern artists who add a unique flare to Elvis’s story, it’s this perfect convergence of the past and present. How could we forget about Elvis himself.

Elvis does something rather interesting. While Austin provides the songs for a younger Elvis, actual recordings are used for Elvis during, what I would call, his prime. Now, miming can be very hit or miss, but during Elvis I genuinely had issues determining what was what. Austin carries himself a way that engrosses you into each and every performance. He has the attitude and demeanour of Elvis, as well as the pipes to present us with the most authentic Elvis portrayal in cinematic history. As a personal preference, I would have liked to have seen more full performances rather than snippets. However, based on the film’s length and the content it had to cover, small compilations absolutely made sense. In fact, this decision actually allowed for us to see Elvis’s vast range, and that in itself was a gift. There are some definite highlights in there, but what I found most impressive, aside from Butler’s voice, is the ways in which some of these songs were envisioned. Some are simple performances, whereas others are actually used to drive the narrative forward. It kept the film busy given its length, and created this vigorous energy that just forced you to nod and tap along. Elvis feels like a show, and Austin Butler is the star shining bright in the centre of it.

Verdict

Elvis is just sublime. While its length may put viewers off, Elvis is an energetic, vibrant, and tragic retelling of Elvis’ rise to fame… And his gradual fall. We get a fantastic look into the life that Elvis lived, as well as the struggles he faced at home and the battles he fought against Tom Parker. Butler and Hanks shine as Elvis and Tom, and I’d be shocked if neither of them get recognition for their work. Whether you’re a die-hard Elvis fan, or simply someone who loves a good movie, Luhrmann’s Elvis is the one for you. Get ready for laughs, tears, hips, and some of the most iconic songs ever to grace our ears. Elvis has it all.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, Evils stars Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Luke Bracey, Natasha Bassett, David Wenham, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Xavier Samuel and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Elvis is out in cinemas now! Have you seen Butler rock the screen as Elvis? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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