Elvis Review: Baz’s Style and Butler’s Portrayal Are Explosive

Elvis Austin Butler Tom Hanks Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures (Large)
Austin Butler as Elvis, Tom Hanks as Colonel Parker. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Elvis Presley is dubbed by many as the “King of Rock and Roll,” and he is the best-selling solo music artist of all time with over 1.5 billion units sold. There have been many who have portrayed the Memphis-raised musician, and fans know them as the middle-aged impersonators in Vegas. It’s become a staple in the city of sin, and movies like 3000 Miles to Graceland and Bubba Ho-Tep have the main actors playing Elvis impersonators.

Then comes Elvis by director Baz Luhrmann, which has an authentic and young take on the singer on a grand scale. Austin Butler (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) was born to play Elvis, and his voice, moves and mannerisms have transported us back from his early days all the way to his stint in Vegas. The soundtrack is a blast and brings new life to Elvis’s music, similar to when Junkie XL’s remixed “A Little Less Conversation.”

The Elvis film focuses on the rocky relationship between Elvis Presley and his manager, Colonel Parker, played by Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan, Castaway). It’s a partnership that’s a gift and a curse, but the manager helped Elvis to become one of the most iconic musicians in the world, even if he was a shady businessman.

Luhrmann’s Style

Luhrmann has a distinct and colorful style, especially in Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby. Elvis continues the trend with lively edits, sets and performances. This is a Baz film, after all, and it’s as if he was a kid in a candy store, going from one sweet candy to the next. In the first half, it jumps around the timeline occasionally. However, it’s done in an entertaining and creative way. For example, when Colonel Parker describes how he met Elvis, it featured comic-book-inspired scenes and then mixes different timelines to the remixed track of Diplo and Swai Lee’s “Tupelo Shuffle.” It’s a wonderful scene with parallels between Gary Clark Jr. as Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and Butler as Elvis performing “That’s All Right Mama.”

Photo Credit: Hugh Stewart
Photo Credit: Hugh Stewart

Austin Butler Is Elvis

Henry Style, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort and others were in the running to play Elvis. Ultimately, that honor went to Austin Butler. This turned out to be a great choice. The actor was dedicated, and it shows in his actual performance. He even practiced karate, met Priscilla Presley, and was very much in character during the making of the film. When Butler performs “Baby, Let’s Play House” during the Louisiana Hayride, it sealed the deal with how the actor brought the energy and moves of Elvis to a new generation. Overall, the actor conveys Elvis with honesty and authenticity.

Tom Hanks plays Colonel Parker, a carnival worker who has a knack for showmanship. He would later become Elvis’ manager and helped push him into a bigger market, thus resulting in the singer’s worldwide success. At first glance, Hanks’ performance can be seen as a cartoonish villain. However, it fits the character with a carnival background who is all about money.

The Music

In addition to his dance moves, Butler captures Elvis’ voice, and it’s been a treat to see Elvis sing on the screen. As previously mentioned, there’s a fresh take on classic songs by bringing in today’s artists. One example is Doja Cat’s “Vegas,” a take on “Hound Dog” by original singer Big Momma Thornton. For the soundtrack and film, Shonka Dukureh sings as Big Mama Thornton, giving a performance with such raw emotion and fire.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The Story

With a film that covers Elvis Presley’s life, it all won’t fit in a 2-and-a-half-hour movie. There were some scenes that I wished had more screen time and more focus. One would be the first time Elvis met up with his new bandmates to record songs under the Sun label. Of course, there’s so much material, and there will always be something that someone would like to see more of. The film does, however, feature many of the important moments in his life. This includes his ’68 comeback special and his time during the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

Final Reaction

Elvis blends the energetic and glittery styles of Luhrmann and the captivating and rockin’ performance of Austin Butler. The director focuses on the highlights of the musician’s journey, and it was an intriguing look at what it was like to be there when the King was around. Butler took the role seriously and practiced with a coach, and it showed on the big screen. The film moves quickly, and even then, I wished the 2-and-a-half-hour running time was even longer.

ScreenX

ScreenX is a format that projects images on three walls inside the theater, giving viewers an immersive 270-degree viewing angle. With Top Gun: Maverick in ScreenX, it really expands on the scope of the skies. For Elvis, it’s a totally different experience. Instead of the skies, Baz Lurhmann’s style is expanded with flashy motion graphics and alluring shots of Presley’s performances on the stage.

ScreenX is used during certain scenes, so don’t expect to see the whole film from a 270-degree viewing angle. With that said, the format utilizes the flashiness and boldness of show business.

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