Baz Lurhman’s latest musical epic “Elvis” takes a look at The King himself. The lens through which it approaches the number-one-selling solo artist of all time (to date) is certainly an odd one. Former Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” star Austin Butler steps into Elvis Presley’s (blue suede) shoes for the flick. However it’s Tom Hanks as Elvis’ corrupt manager, Colonel Tom Parker.
Hanks is generally an incredible actor, but not one we’d say is good at disappearing into roles. His affable off-screen personality is often what helps pad his more recent performances. But Parker is a scoundrel for sure, outside of Hanks’s normal repertoire. The film tries to hide him in cheap prosthetics and he puts on a bobo Dracula accent. However it’s not enough to hide that it’s Tom Hanks. What’s stranger is Parker is effectively the narrator of the film. So we’re witnessing Presley’s rise to fame through quite a subjective lens.
Butler does a bit of a better job disappearing into the role. He’s not the first (and probably not the most dynamic) person to portray The King of Rock and Roll. He does a decent job of embodying the hip swaying younger era of the King, however. The further along in his career they get, the less believable Butler becomes. Throughout though he does a good job of channeling Elvis’s voice. According to Lurhman, Butler did indeed do the singing.
The film follows Elvis’s rise through his downfall. Most of it through the manipulations of Parker. What stood out to us in this rendition of Presley’s tale was the film TRIES to give more credit to the Black artists who inspired Presley at a young age.
We often forget that Elvis was not in fact a songwriter. Instead, he covered other artist’s songs. He drew particular success with his covering of Black music. This is one of those moments we wish there had been a little less conversation and a little more action on the part of the film. It flirts with Elvis ignoring segregation and supporting Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. The film just never really goes…there.
There’s also no denying it (along with every other biography of Presley) tries to normalize the 10-year age gap between Presley and his eventual wife, Priscilla Presley. He was 24 when they met… she was 14. The film tries to skip ahead in their courtship a bit so she’s not literal jailbait (or at least is vague enough about what age they first show us their interactions). Yes, we know it’s part of their history. But it doesn’t feel like something we should be getting away with glamourising in 2022.
Let’s be honest- the best part of the film is the music. As we said, Butler does a good job interpreting the songs. There are some fun remixes. It’s the same driving force that continues to draw countless people to janky Elvis impersonator shows in Vegas. His music was damn good.
The film also feels like it doesn’t want to villainize anyone too much. Even though it lays out step by step the ways Parker was royally screwing over Elvis, it doesn’t feel like it satisfyingly rakes him over the coals. Additionally, Elvis feels a passive character in a film about … him.
We’d have preferred if the film had cut down about 30 min from the somewhat bloated 2 hour 30 min run time. If it had done so and had been willing to present the story in a less sterile feeling way it could have been something really special. Instead it’s just a decent time, but a better soundtrack.
Baz Lurhman’s “Elvis” also stars Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Luke Bracey, Natasha Basset, David Wenham, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Samuel, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. It’s out in theaters now.