‘Elvis’ Movie Review: An Incredible Performance Hindered By Baz Luhrmann

Elvis Movie

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.

Acting

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.

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.

Visuals

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

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 Emma's Geek Girl Blog, Featured, Movie Reviews, Movies

Responses

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  1. Oh wow, a C- on this one. Dang that hurts as I was hoping it would be better. When I first saw the trailer I was not too excited but the more I kept seeing it the more I had high hopes for it. Thanks for the review and I can’t wait to see it myself!

  2. Ok, Emma, I finally saw the film for myself and I do agree with you on the fact that there is a lot of story being told here. However, being much older than you and from a different generation, Elvis and the rumors at the time of his being taken advantage of by Col. Parker was THE story revolving around Elvis for many years and it intrigued and angered his fans, especially after Elvis’ death. So I have to say I found it interesting the approach that Luhrmann took of having Parker be the narrator of the story. With that being said, I did not think I would like this film as much as I did but I have to say, it captured me. Most of all I will admit is because of the music and the star-making performance by Austin Butler. Absolutely amazing and he does deserve Oscar recognition as you stated in your review. I rarely want to see a film more than once but this one I could watch again. B+ for me!

    1. My thoughts exactly I think Emma being a totally different generation does not quite get the film , you have to live it to believe it and us (dare I say ) older viewers remember only to well that era .
      Brilliant film well done Baz
      🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩

      1. Hey Carol! Thank you for your comment – I definitely appreciate all opinions and reviews when it comes to the world of film. While I was born a few years after Elvis passed, I have always been a big fan of his music. And like I said, I think Austin Bulter did a fantastic job. I just feel like Baz’s organization and approach to the film didn’t work for me. The focus and narration coming from Tom Hanks’ character took away from what I feel the focus on the film should have been.

        While not my favorite film, I will personally be nominating Austin Bulter for Best Male Performance in the film critic groups I’m in this fall. Still absolutely blown away by his performance!

    2. I can definitely appreciate your view, John. And you’re right – maybe if I was more aware of the rumors around his life/career – I would have felt differently about having Col. Parker as the voice of the film. But even so, it’s a LOT of story. I have to ask – don’t you think it would have been better as a mini-series? I almost wonder if my own review would be different had I consumed it in a different medium.

    3. I agree! I also feel Baz writes the script for fans. Being very familiar with Elvis’ story (read many books and mags), the storyline wasn’t confusing for me at all. I, too, had reservations about the movie, due to a misguided preview/trailer, but I was thoroughly impressed and will see this movie at least 2 more times in the theater. Honestly, I was blown away!!

      1. The one thing that really saddened and disappointed me was the outright dishonoring of history. The script writers flat-out fabricated a fair amount of “history” to embellish a story that didn’t need it, such as Elvis firing Parker from the stage in Las Vegas, for example. That didn’t happen and it made Elvis look more unstable than he was.

  3. It just seems to me Emma Loggins wants to be Noticed for her Slant view on an Outstanding Film by Baz Luhrmann. I liked the way the Biopic story was told. Credit to Baz Luhrmann All of the Presley Family Loved it. It couldn’t have been as bad as Emma Loggins days especially when one of the Leading characters in Priscilla Presley who was actually there says Elvis himself would have loved it.I really don’t know what motivates Emma Loggins to write such Hogwash

    1. Hi Mark – I appreciate all views. So thank you for your time in posting yours! 🙂 That’s the beautiful thing about cinema and film reviews – we don’t all have to agree. Though I will say, I’m a big Elvis fan – despite being born after he passed.

  4. Relationships fascinate us-especially bizarre ones. Elvis and the Colonel had a hard to figure out relationship that brought up many questions:
    *How did Parker get away with half of Elvis’ money?!
    * Why did Elvis agree to jobs|movies he didn’t want to do?
    *Why didn’t Elvis find a way to tour outside of the US without Parker?
    *Why did he put up with Parker?
    *Why didn’t he hire a new manager?
    He was Elvis Presley! He had the true power-not Parker. It’s all so hard to understand. It is a riddle with no answer.
    That is why their relationship remains, to this day, so fascinating and so tragic.

  5. I left the movie sobbing!!! I believe that the first hour of the movie was made like a dream sequence to show how crazy it was for Elvis/Parker. After Elvis joined the army the movie slowed down to more of a regular pace just like Elvis’s life. I went with my wife and three children all their ages 29,27,24. I grew up a big fan and so did all my children. They all though the first hour was weird! But that the rest of the movie was fantastic. My wife and I are in our 60’s we thought the whole movie was fantastic 2 hours 39 minutes that seemed to fly by! One of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. The generational comments are spot on! A- rating go see this movie to see history how US culture has evolved!!

  6. Emma. You’re way off. Too young or arrogant to appreciate this storytelling. All the pieces are there. Elvis couldn’t tell the story because he didn’t see the story behind Tom Parker ….and Elvis couldn’t see his being taking advantage of and his abuse of drugs. Film is magnificently told. Priscilla Presley said so.

    1. Lynda, thank you for sharing your opinion. I love geeking out over movies with all our readers – even when we might not see eye-to-eye. While this film wasn’t my cup of tea, I personally felt it was disorganized – and that has no bearing on the fact that I am a fan of Elvis and of Baz Luhrmann’s other films. As I’ve mentioned countless times, I’ll be nominating Austin Bulter for Best Male Performance come award season – his performance here was brilliant. (But as a side note – there’s no need to call me arrogant because our opinions don’t align. I’m still a fan of Elvis. Let’s keep it kind and geeky around here. We’re all humans at the end of the day – No need to be mean). Have a wonderful weekend! 🙂

  7. Saw Elvis yesterday. Feel so proud that Baz Luhrmann is Australian and many roles in the film Australian actors. We’ve come a long way, our Arts community. The movie is a masterpiece! The casting superb. I have a renewed respect for Elvis. He was obviously way ahead of his time, as a musical creative. He had the social conscience of a warrior pushing back against a horrific conservative and racist America. I was also in tears by the end, …as the closing credits ‘In the Ghetto ‘ played. What a song. And I had no idea Elvis sang protest songs in retaliation to the shocking events unfolding in America. Thank you Baz. Thank you for your gift of genius. Thank you for helping to mend the broken hearts for Elvis’s family and giving him the acknowledgement he so deserves .

  8. There is a lot to tell about Elvis…it was a fantastic movie… I didn’t even care for Elvis as a performer…I liked his movies and there was nothing about that here but it was very good. I did not like Tom Hanks as Parker. He brought a fake creepiness to the character. You could tell that the face was fake and layered. Should of had someone that already favored the Colonel. I think that Parker was actually escaping a criminal past from Holland…Nazi? …. Hope Austin gets an Oscar nod..

  9. This article is perfection relating to the movie in summary. Austin was good enough to just simply tell Elvis’s story in a beautiful way Tom Hanks is one of my favorites but did not like him as Parker at all and it was way too much about Parker it was confusing it was hectic it was lost it was still worth seeing solely because of Austin Butler’s portrayal of Elvis Presley the greatest Talent That Ever Walked the face of the Earth you were right on Emma

  10. I am 79 so I was a fan in real time. I wonder what a noted critic of my generation would say. We who had brains thought Col Parker was a Svengali duping an impressionable boy. Why didn’t Elvis and his closest people get rid of him, that, to me, is the mystery behind the story and the man.

  11. I completely agree with you. Elvis’ story is too long and complicated for 2 and a half hours. It should have been a mini- series or a trilogy of movies at least. Also, I’m sick of people saying Prisilly says Elvis would have loved the movie. She never really loved him nor really knew his heart. I also hated how much emphasis the movie put on his mom’s drinking. He loved her so much and that alone would have made him hate the movie. But leaving out Linda Thompson and his later years would’ve made him hate it even more. I’ve seen the 1st half of the film, but I keep getting so angry I can’t finish it yet…