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Elvis (A Movie Review)

ELVIS (2022)

Starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge, Luke Bracey, Natasha Bassett, David Wenham, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Samuel, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Dacre Montgomery, Leon Ford, Kate Mulvany, Chaydon Jay, Josh McConville, Patrick Shearer, Adam Dunn, Yola Quartey, Alton Mason, Gary Clark Jr. and Anthony LaPaglia.

Screenplay by Baz Luhrmann & Sam Bromell and Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce and Jeremy Doner.

Directed by Baz Luhrmann.

Distributed by Warner Bros. 159 minutes. Rated PG-13.

The story of Elvis Presley always seemed to be an odd fit for the hyperactive filmmaking style of Baz Luhrmann (Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby), a concern that is only partially alleviated in this latest glitzy-but-overwrought take on the life and death of the King of Rock and Roll.

Presley is an iconic character in pop culture – 45 years after his death people still make pilgrimages to his home and his gravesite – who has been often portrayed on film, sometimes well, sometimes not. Elvis has sort of the perfect American story, a dream turned tragedy in which talent, good looks, and raw charisma led a young country boy to unparalleled heights, only to lose it all to drugs, sycophants and mental illness.

Relative unknown Austin Butler (he was previously probably best known for the short-lived series The Shannara Chronicles and The Carrie Diaries) is a revelation as Presley, capturing the man’s essence and swagger.

A little more problematic is the performance of Tom Hanks as his manager Colonel Tom Parker, buried under a ton of makeup and a rather bizarre accent. It is hard to tell how much of this off-puttingness is due to the performance, how much is due to the disguise, and how much is due to the fact that the Colonel was just a weird, inexplicable guy. Perhaps Hanks is nailing the role, but he always feels off, which is a problem because The Colonel is every bit as important – maybe even more so – to this story than Elvis is. (In fact, the film probably should have more accurately been called Elvis and the Colonel.)

A guy I know, who is more of an Elvis expert than I am, has come to the decision that Luhrmann’s quick cuts and flashy graphics are supposed to be visual cues for the story as seen through the eyes of the ill and drug-addled Parker. While I think that may be giving Luhrmann a bit more credit than he deserves, if that is really the case then maybe it does work better.

However, in the second half, when Luhrmann allows the film to actually play out with less of the gaudy cuts and cheesy gimmicks is where the film finds its footing. (Luhrmann has a tendency to front-load his flashier tendencies in his films and then eventually settles into a storytelling groove.)

The story itself is well known and shown in broad gestures, you don’t learn anything here that you wouldn’t have found in any extended article about the King, but still the Presley story is fascinating enough that it’s always worth seeing.

So while Elvis runs a bit too long (two hours and 40 minutes!) and some of the early scenes are a little vertigo-inducing, overall it is a fairly good film with a star-making lead performance.

Besides, both Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley – Elvis’ widow and daughter – have been very vocal in their support of the film, claiming that it got Elvis more than any previous film had. And I guess they should know.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: June 24, 2022.


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