Elvis Review – Austin Butler Dazzles in Baz Luhrmann Elvis Biopic

The life of gyrating music phenomenon, Elvis Presley, is captured with ornate flair in Baz Luhrmann’s showy epic, Elvis.

The film observes the triumph and tragedy behind the King of Rock and Roll, following his days as a young-showman dazzling crowds – his enchanting movements bringing audiences to hysterics – to his battles with addiction and financial mismanagement.

A regarded maximalist, Luhrmann’s unique touch makes him one of the most distinguishable filmmakers working today. With Elvis, this is no different, with frequent flourishes – quintessentially Baz – and bejazzled production elements (Catherine Martin crafting one of the most beautiful displays of costumery seen in cinema – pant suits galore) designed to overwhelm and enamour.

In Baz’s world of bricolage, everything – including the kitchen sink – is included.

Though not quite hitting Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) level of frantic editing, there is a lot of movie behind Elvis, with the pacing shifting back and forth rapidly between sequences. At times this does prove dizzying, particularly through the film’s framing; told as a recollection of events by Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). In the effort to present the immoral air of Vegas, where the disgruntled Parker resides, the film unleashes the camera with the same jolting movement of an immersive theme-park ride. Adding to this frenzied energy is Hank’s brassy interpretation of Parker, sitting somewhere between an Adam Sandler character and Goldmember in vocal registration.

Unless this reviewer was overcome with a Luhrmann-esque Stockholm syndrome, the OTT becomes subdued once Elvis’ career takes off, shifting gear into a slew of show-stopping performances that demonstrate his performative ability. Luhrmann does an exceptional job presenting Elvis as more than just the product of pelvic thrusting, highlighting his soul-shattering range as a vocalist. Say what you will about Luhrmann’s taste level, but there is no denying his sharp sense of musicality, particularly for soundtracks; a fusion of genre and mash-ups, including the likes of Doja Cat, Britney Spears and The Backstreet Boys. The film’s resistance to being a play-by-play of Elvis’ catalogue is remarkably executed, empowering songs to not only function as a showcase of his musical bravado, but project his internal state of mind.

It is rewarding on the mind and ears.

In exploring Presley’s entire career, the film ends with the hardships that plagued his later career. While Elvis doesn’t shy away from the grit, this is very much a film that bypasses misery-porn levels of biopic storytelling. It illuminates Presley’s achievements so they may shine through; He may have suffered but he is not defined by it. That said, there is something exciting about a film that explores Presley’s distinct creative process, with efforts by Elvis to address his involvement in issues surrounding race and censorship – coming via conservative America – rendering it incomplete.

Of course, in a film exhibiting the musical chops of one of the world’s most accomplished artists, its success rides on the back of its caped heartthrob. In Austin Butler, Elvis comes alive in sound and appearance, capturing the Burning Love singer’s physiognomy and Southern drawl with poise. You can see how a subject like Elvis, an artist who throughout his career struggled to represent himself, would attract a filmmaker like Luhrmann; a director whose most successful films tackle stories of love-struck debonairs challenging convention. It is a feat that Butler channels with seasoned grace, not to mention the electrifying showmanship of the Blue Suede Shoes songbird.

Frankly put, the spotlight looks good on Butler.

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Cast: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge

Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner

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