Elvis - Movie Review

Austin Butler Dazzles
Austin Butler is Elvis in Baz Luhrmann's Flashy New film.
Austin Butler is Elvis in Baz Luhrmann's Flashy New film.(Warner Bros.)
Published: Jul. 19, 2022 at 11:25 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 19, 2022 at 1:59 PM EDT
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In the post pandemic dystopian cinema box office, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is racking up robust ticket sales. Despite the saturation of Elvis’ biopics, TV series, biographies and ubiquitous iconography, people are fascinated with the enigmatic, trailblazing, and ultimately tragic King of Rock and Roll. Luhrmann’s flamboyant filmmaking seems like a perfect match for Presley’s flashy performances, but style alone doesn’t make a good film. Substance and emotional impact depend highly on the actor playing the King, and Austin Butler is a great choice.

Luhrmann’s typically dazzling storytelling; fast editing, split screens and shots that don’t last longer than a few seconds, is great to look at it, but can be disorienting when you are trying to find an emotional, or even coherent foothold into the story. This is the dilemma I felt during the first third of the film. In this gorgeous kaleidoscope it is difficult to create a credible performance, how can an actor be memorable when they come and go so quickly on the screen? Much of this earlier part of the film is devoted to Elvis as a child (Chaydon Jay) and the influence of black music during his rural upbringing in the South.

Fortunately, as the film progresses the editing becomes less frantic, and Austin Butler, who still must struggle with being an actor in a Luhrmann film – sort of like being a back-up singer to Barbra Streisand-begins to weave a beguiling, charismatic performance. Butler is especially impressive during the concert and performance scenes. Here he somehow manages to inhabit Elvis without imitating him.

Influenced and inspired by the non-fiction book, The Colonel by Alanna Nash the story focuses a lot on Elvis’ controversial manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) and their tumultuous long relationship. Parker is almost as enigmatic as Presley, and his permanent, often maleficent presence in the film, resembles a villain in a fable. Hank’s performance with its bizarre hybrid accent (Dutch + American Southern?) is polarizing. If Hanks and the writers had made the character a bit more mythical and less realistic it might be better to swallow and would also mesh better with Luhrmann’s magical realism touches. However as is, I don’t know what to make of it. It is too bizarre and keeps me at such a distance, that it began to annoy me.

The film is overlong, and the beginning is emotionally off-putting. No matter though, because I found the last third of the film completely involving and when Luhrmann’s originality meets Black’s authenticity the film soars. Sitting in the theater, watching it on the big screen is fun, it’s a unique experience that too often escapes us these days.

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