While much is known about the King of Rock n' Roll, there is another story behind his rise and fall. Digital editor Dan Jensen checks out Baz Luhrmann's take on the life of Elvis Presley.
HOW MUCH you enjoy Elvis is going to come down to your opinion on Baz Luhrmann’s films. While lead actor Austin Butler and co-star Tom Hanks deliver stellar performances, the true star of the show here is the director. Luhrmann’s films have all the dazzle and spectacle of one of Presley’s bejewelled stage outfits and this film showcases that style from start to finish.
Elvis isn’t so much a biopic of the King of Rock n’ Roll, but an examination of how he was turned into a product and manipulated by his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Hanks). Told from the perspective of Parker, the film chronicles Elvis’ life from his initial discovery to his final days and the 159-minute run time is packed full of decades of historical events that affected Presley’s career and life choices. It’s a big movie that can feel a little exhausting at times.
The opening montage of scenes is dizzying and if you’re not familiar with Baz Luhrmann’s style, be prepared. The camera moves constantly, spinning and weaving while each scene transitions to the next fluidly. It’s a lot to take in and Baz never really applies the brakes throughout most of it. It’s a trademark of many of his previous films including Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, but it’s hard to deny that it feels at home here among the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas.
Austin Butler has received criticism that he doesn’t look enough like Elvis to be convincing. This is completely unwarranted. While there are moments where the illusion fades for a moment, Butler’s transformation into Presley is absolutely outstanding. Not so much because of the costumes, hair and make-up, but the way he captures Elvis’ mannerisms, voice and stage presence. It was a wise move to cast a relatively unknown actor in the role so as not to be a distraction from a bigger name’s star power.
Tom Hanks is also brilliant in the role of Tom Parker. At times unrecognisable beneath layers of prosthetics and speaking with a convincing Dutch-American accent, Hanks portrays the role with the superb talent that has won him two Oscars in the past. Despite his character being a fraudster who wanted to milk Elvis’ career for every last dollar, it’s hard to dislike him too much because you’re always aware that it’s Tom Hanks, one of the most likable human beings in the world.
The production design in Elvis is phenomenal, with every decade feeling authentic through costumes, cars and settings. Say what you will about the spectacle of Luhrmann’s directing, one thing the man gets right is his attention to detail. Every scene features a vibrant colour palette and is full of life. The stage performances are where the film truly shines, with Butler performing most of the songs so accurately that it sometimes feels like the King has been reincarnated.
One of the film’s greatest strengths is depicting Elvis as a human being first and foremost and showing a great deal of respect for the man. While he became an icon and one of the biggest entertainers the world has ever known, the film touches on who the man was deep down, away from the spotlights and sequins. Even the Presley family have publicly stated their pleasure in the way his life was portrayed on screen.
Elvis is an extravagant cinematic event, but not without its problems. For starters, the run time is excessive and the story loses steam by the third act, even with the hyper-kinetic editing and camera work. Once we reach Presley’s final act, there’s not much weight behind the drama as it feels like the rollercoaster is finally slowing down.
The fast pace of the editing serves well in some scenes, particularly those featuring Elvis' stage performances. But some dramatic scenes involving characters in deep discussion cut every few seconds and feature camera set-ups from multiple angles, which is highly distracting.
Not only that, but while Butler’s performance is sensational, it doesn’t really feel like Elvis ages much from his early days to his final years. With the level of perfection in Hanks’ make-up, it feels as though the team could have done better in making Butler appear the way Elvis did in his final stages.
Aside from that, Baz Luhrmann has made some odd music choices throughout the film, with some scenes featuring modern-day music with rap vocals over scenes set in the ‘50s. It’s distracting and makes the film feel more like a product than a piece of cinematic art.
If you’re a fan of Baz, you’re most likely going to love this. There’s a lot to appreciate and it’s most likely going to clean up next awards season. And if you’re a fan of the King, this is an absolute must-see.
Elvis is now showing in cinemas across the country.
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