A thoroughly cinematic drama, Elvis’s (Butler) story is seen through the lens 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).
History is an interesting beast. We’re presented with books, pictures, and videos that paint a certain image of what the establishment wants us to know about our past—a base knowledge if you will. It usually consists of us learning that there were a few bad moments, a few wars, but we’re here now so everything is great. There’s no actual nuance and rarely enough depth. And no, it’s not all good now. Fortunately, if you happen to attend a decent college or do some digging as you get older, you discover that most of what you learned is a lie or only half of the truth. In actuality, besides a few select moments, history in its entirety is almost all negative. And that’s okay because we can do better if we know better. Also, on an individual basis, of course, it is not that simplistic. What I’m getting at is that we just want to know what’s real, at least most of us do. Our skewed version of history has often demonized those trying to do the right thing as well as those just trying to exist while it then champions agents of hate, violence, and supremacy. It can outright omit contributions made by many to allow a select few to be celebrated even if they did nothing. Or worse, it attempts to erase your culture altogether. It’s said that winners write history, unfortunately, in real life, bad guys can also win. We’re slowly righting the ship, but with information being weaponized and so many latched onto the lies, some will deny, fight, and even kill to preserve the whitewashed version of history that marches in their heads.
“Without me, there would be no Elvis Presley.”
Elvis may have permanently left the building in 1977 but his spirit has continued to live on for decades since. The collective love of the music, infatuation with the man, and the thought of what could’ve been have brought us all to this moment. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, Elvis is an electric Rock ‘n’ Roll rollercoaster. The biopic is as much a celebration of the life and music of Elvis Aaron Presley as it is an exploration of what he stood for and how he was taken advantage of. Unbeknownst to me, it’s a story that is as dark and diabolical as it is golden and glamorous. The film tells his life story from beginning to end but in an exciting and unconventional fashion. Narrated by Tom Hanks’ character Colonel Tom Parker and told partially from his perspective, it’s a tale crafted for two. The raucous full-throttle Cadillac-driven overarching narrative is reminiscent of the fable, The Scorpion and the Frog—there are no winners.
The biggest thing that I was on the look for, that would make this film a failure if not included, was the people, culture, and music that inspired Elvis—Black culture and Black music. To my delight, it’s not only included but it is explored and is consistently referenced as it is what molded his career and him as a person. Elvis was not only influenced by Black music but he was imbued with the spirit of the culture, it’s where he felt most rooted. The film doesn’t skirt around the racial tensions of the 1950s south nor does it dodge the tragedies of the 60s that sparked the rebellion and discontent in Presley. It skillfully and seamlessly transitions itself from Elvis, the man of the people, to Elvis, the contractually kidnapped. He spoke out, rebelled, and moved his hips while doing so. He captured the eyes, ears, and souls of America, and that terrified those in power that hated the very people he called his friends and peers. As the film dives into the relationship between Elvis and his future wife Priscilla, there is one thing that it doesn’t focus on—the age difference. When the two met, he was 24 and she was 14, they clearly had a relationship and got married when she was 22. I assume it is glossed over because that’s not what this film was meant to be about, however, I’m sure it will be a topic of discussion once again.
“Those people ain’t gonna change me none!”
Elvis is completely engrossing. You’ll laugh, sing, dance, and may even shed a tear or two. It’s over-the-top at times in the best ways. The music-filled biopic is shot and edited masterfully, the costume and production design is chef’s kiss, and it’s written incredibly well. This film also features one of the best performances you’ll see all year. Austin Butler has arrived! He is magical on-screen and even after the show footage of the real Elvis, you almost can’t tell the difference. Butler bodied the moves, sang the songs, talked the talk—he completely transformed. This glamorously tragic story is worth experiencing more than once. It covers so many aspects of his life, I’m sure there are things that even super-fans will learn. I loved the film. It’s a true cinematic experience and a must-see. This is definitely one of the top 3 films of the year so far. Its rewatchability is high.
Pace & Pop
This film is full tilt from beginning to end. Unlike other biopics, the stylistic way the story unfolds quickly grabs your attention and masterfully crafts the narrative in a way that never loosens its grasp. Normally there are one or two aspects of a film that pop to me and are worthy of note even if the film isn’t all that great. In this instance, it’s the entire film that pops. I can’t pick just one thing as I was completely blown away by it all. However, if you were somehow able to twist my arm, I’d say the performance of Austin Butler is what made it phenomenal.
Characters & Chemistry
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, Gareth Davies, Charles Grounds, Josh McConville, Adam Dunn, Yola, Alton Mason, Gary Clark Jr., Shonka Dukureh
There’s no doubt that this is a fantastic cast of actors, singers, and musicians, however, this is the Austin Butler and Tom Hanks takeover. Their performances are so commanding and so enthralling that’s as if no one else exists. The spirit of Elvis seemed to inhabit the body of Butler as he completely transforms into the hip-gyrating legend and gives the performance of a lifetime. From the look, the voice, the vocals, and righteousness, I gained a new respect for the so-called King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I was completely unaware of Hanks’ character, Colonel Tom Parker and I’d hate to know him. Hanks brings to life a man that would start a fire just so he could extinguish it and be called a hero. He’s the worst kind of hustler. He preys on the vulnerable, robs the poor, and is only helpful if it benefits him more. Hanks did such an amazing job that if he wasn’t in a body suit and prosthetics to make him almost unrecognizable, you might actually feel some type of way if you saw him in person. Again, they did amazing.
Elvis releases in theaters on June 24, 2022. Stay safe and enjoy.
Runtime: 2h 38m
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner
Editors: Matt Villa, Jonathan Redmond
Director of Photography: Mandy Walker
Producers: Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Gail Berman, Patrick McCormick, Schuyler Weiss
Executive Producers: Toby Emmerich, Courtenay Valenti, Kevin McCormick
Elvis is an electric Rock 'n' Roll rollercoaster
Senior Critic. Observing the human race since 1988.