As a millennial, all you have to do is whisper the name Baz Luhrmann to me. Between his incredible work on Romeo + Juliet and then his work on Moulin Rouge (the film that I argue is the best of his career), I’ll show up for anything with Luhrmann’s name on it. So naturally, I was more than eager to see his latest film, Elvis.
Elvis is billed as an epic, big-screen spectacle by director Baz Luhrmann. The film explores the life and music of Elvis Presley, starring Austin Butler and Oscar winner Tom Hanks. 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).
Take a look at the trailer below.
Elvis Movie Trailer
Elvis Movie Review: What I Did And Didn’t Like
We’ve already established that I’m a massive Baz Luhrmann fan. This being stated despite being led astray by several films that didn’t hold up to those 90s masterpieces I referenced earlier. This includes Luhrmann’s 2008’s Australia, which I went into with high expectations. And I came out, completely confused.
Australia was my first realization that Luhrmann is something beyond a perfectionist. He doesn’t trust the original story he’s telling enough to let it carry itself. So instead, he has the habit of making films that tell too many stories. They outgrow themselves before they’ve reached the halfway point.
With Elvis, he does the same thing he did with Australia. He tells multiple stories. This approach creates a film that feels disjointed and far too big for the medium. Had he tried to tell this story on an FX or HBO as a miniseries, it would have been received differently. But instead, the format of a single film… The big screen is just not large enough for the story that Luhrmann has crafted here.
The most positive thing I can say about this film is that the casting of Austin Butler was incredible. Bulter’s performance in this film deserves Oscar recognition. He’s freaking fantastic!
Bulter mastered not only Presley’s mannerisms but also his voice and his overall presence – not just in one scene – but across multiple decades. And this speaks to not only a rare talent. But also a rare talent that Luhrmann could see. He had the opportunity to cast someone more well-known in this role, but instead, he went with raw talent. This choice allowed for the audience to grow from an unknown talent to a superstar – just as the world grew with Elvis.
Other performances in the film were also noteworthy. Namely, Olivia DeJonge, who did a fantastic job as Priscilla Presley. However, my less popular opinion will be what I have to say about Tom Hanks’ Colonel Tom Parker. While Hanks delivers a wonderful performance as he always does, it’s quite simply too much here. And this is the perfect segue into my larger issue with the film, the script.
Oh, the script…. I have so many issues. The tale of a superstar who has an inept manager who doesn’t appreciate or value them is a story that we’re all sadly too familiar with. While one would have hoped that Hollywood would have learned this lesson with Colonel Tom Parker, we know from the 90s and the decade’s relationship with Lou Pearlman and the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, and all the other crazy things he was doing, that history will repeat itself. One of the oldest stories in the book will always be a f***ked up manager taking advantage of someone with an insane amount of talent that doesn’t know or understand the business.
But I digress. I find the story and motivation of the manager in these scenarios to be an interesting story. And it’s one worthy of a deeper look. But my issue is that this individual always tries to take away from the star they’re leaching off of. They want the spotlight. But the spotlight belongs to the talent they’re ultimately screwing over.
So while Tom Hanks gives a beautiful performance, his story isn’t needed here. It’s a secondary story. And it takes away from the magic that Luhrmann would have had if he had just told one story – that of Elvis.
Bulter delivers an award-winning performance. However, that performance gets buried by all the unnecessary story. If only Luhrmann had stayed focused on this narrative (and maybe that’s also partially affected by four people being involved with writing the script), but this film feels lost – despite the diamond at its core.
The visuals are one area of Luhrmann’s that I’ve always been able to rave about. However, here, I can’t. Elvis is a beautiful film, but not as stunning or impressive as Luhrmann’s previous works.
The visual continuity is off for me. From starting the film with fast pace transitions (that maybe are present to make us forget about how slow scenes are in the 2-hour and 39-minute film) to the comic book transitions to the more Elvis-feeling visuals, it just feels like multiple films. I understand we were growing with Elvis as he was growing – so the “branding” of the visuals would be evolving as he was evolving – but it just doesn’t feel like that.
Elvis Movie Review: Overall Thoughts
There’s so much potential here. It honestly hurts. The talent in this film is undeniable. All of the pieces are present – why isn’t this a masterpiece? It’s just the wrong amount of ingredients. This was the wrong script. Despite Tom Hanks’ talent, he shouldn’t have been the guiding voice of this film. This is Elvis’ story, and Austin Butler is more than capable of telling it.
Overall, there’s too much story, and it dilutes the intensity of the incredible performance of Austin Butler. Nevertheless, Elvis is still a film worth seeing, even just for Bulter’s groundbreaking performance. But it could have been so much better, and that’s the part that hurts my movie-loving heart.
While I’ll continue to show up for anything Luhrmann does, I’ll cross my fingers that in the future, he trusts himself and his actors to tell a more straightforward and focused story. And if that’s not the story he wants to tell, I’m sure FX or HBO Max is just a phone call away. At this point, Luhrmann really should explore other mediums for the scale of stories he clearly wants to tell.
Elvis Movie Review:
Grade: C-Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in