When the “King of Rock and Roll” collides with postmodern director Baz Luhrmann the result will be spectacular.
Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic, ELVIS, from Warner Bros. Pictures, is just that. An epic extravaganza depicting the rise of a 20th-century icon from his childhood in Tupelo, Mississippi, to his success in Las Vegas and subsequently the world. Because when Luhrmann is involved, it is always a spectacle.
Starring Austin Butler as Presley, Tom Hanks as his manager Colonel Tom Parker, and Olivia DeJonge as his wife Priscilla, the story is told from the perspective of Parker. It examines his intricate relationship and co-dependency with the superstar while championing Presley’s magnetism and unquestionable talent.
With principal photography occurring on the Gold Coast, Australia, the use of film sets intermixed with locations was apparent. This did not diminish the overall scope of the film. In fact, the era is depicted quite well via costuming (Catherine Martin), production design (Karen Murphy), music (Anton Monsted), composition (Elliott Wheeler), narrative, and dialogue. Largely, there is a genuine feeling of being in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and having an intimate viewpoint of Presley’s life trajectory.
This is where Lurhmann excels. Enticing audiences via atmosphere and emotion. He embraces contemporary cinematic techniques to achieve this: fast-paced camera cuts, mise-en-scene, comic book text to herald locations, and CGI. While jump cuts, montages, dissolves, and flashbacks assist progressing time. But unfortunately, time was not on this film’s side. It is long. Too long.
Although he had a short life, Presley led a full one. Much of this was captured in the 2-hour and 39-minute film, but not everything. Some elements were fleetingly mentioned without remarkable detail. For example, his extramarital affairs. Others were omitted entirely. Overall, Lurhmann ensured this film was a visually stunning and a predominantly positive portrayal of an icon who became tormented, particularly in the latter stages of his life. Grittiness was missing in favour of shine.
Despite the lack of grit, Lurhmann does well to balance the duality of Presley. Presley’s relationship with his parents (Helen Thomson and Richard Roxburgh) and wife Priscilla demonstrates his warmth. Whereas a myriad of jaw-dropping musical numbers highlight the exuberant entertainer.
The musical component of ELVIS is noteworthy. As music underpins Presley’s motivations since childhood and resulted in his fame, substantial emphasis is placed on this. Replications of actual events and performances, the hip-shaking and arm gestures, and the hordes of screaming fans, are glorious to watch on the big screen with the Lurhmann touch.
Butler’s performance as The King is nothing short of brilliant. Beyond the physical and vocal similarities, he embodies Presley with such finesse it is breath taking. Butler is captivating. When the narrative dips into tedium, his presence is the lifeline that sustains interest. His is an Academy Award nomination performance.
Hanks holds his own as Parker. He portrays the materialistic and unscrupulous Parker with his customary aptitude. As a result, it is difficult not to loathe the character and man. The chemistry between Hanks and Butler is exceptional. Together they portray a complex relationship meaningfully and with plausibility.
ELVIS is a sincere ode to a legend. Lurhmann’s vision is emblazoned throughout the film and is sure to reignite the passion associated with Elvis Presley. Despite its shortcomings, it is a source of escapist enjoyment that will tug at your heartstrings.
Movie Review By Anita Kertes