Review: Elvis

Title: Elvis
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge
Runtime: 2 hr 39 mins

What It Is: Elvis is Baz Luhrmann’s biopic of Elvis Presley, from his childhood to becoming a rock and movie star in the 1950s while maintaining a complex relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

What We Think: One of the most anticipated films of the year, Elvis, makes its way into theaters this week. Baz Luhrmann’s directorial style takes a swing at the king of rock and roll’s life story, and for the most part, it hits some dazzling marks – but misses a few as well. While the film takes us on a blurry rollercoaster ride through the life and times of Elvis, what’s surprising it that the main thing that keeps us grounded in that journey isn’t the zany transitions or set re-creations – it’s Austin Butler. The most alluring performance of the year so far, Butler loses himself beautifully into the role, and is the prime reason why you should go see this picture. Who could’ve guessed that the fellow who played Tex Watson in Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood would be playing Elvis? It’s clear that when you watch him on screen, the sheer amount of dedication and prowess is dazzling. There’s a certain point in the film where a smash cut occurs, transitioning between his performance and Elvis himself (a touching moment for those who know), and the resemblance is uncanny. If any accolades come his way, he would be more than deserving of a few.

The rest of the cast does amazing as well – but I’ve noticed the main discussion of these performances centered around Butler’s Elvis and Hank’s… Colonel. Which, has been brutally criticized across review outlets, stating that it’s “the worst of his career”. The thing is, Hanks, transforms almost as much as Butler here. While watching the film, his accent and bumbling, awkward appearance grew on me in an oddly curious and to some extent, endearing way. Is there a ‘camp’ present? Most certainly. Does it drag the film down? In some places, but not the entire picture. With the colorful, funky, and electric environment our characters traverse through, he is the perfect mix of the man behind the curtain and the odd car salesman. Sometimes you’re laughing at him, sometimes because of him. The same can be said for the film’s technical aspects…

While the performances are at the forefront, the first half of the film is so disjointed in the edit (dizzying to some extent) that it takes a bit to get the ball rolling. The camera rarely lingers, and when it does, it’s such a relief! The cuts between characters are an absurd amount, and the amount of fade transitions feel like someone is dripping different types of food coloring into clear water – and, one of my biggest gripes with Luhrmann’s recent films unfortunately comes forefront here. The use of modern-day music in a period piece just doesn’t sit well with the film’s presentation. Hearing Doja Cat‘s music play in 1950s Tennessee accomplishes such a drastic disconnect to the ambiance present within the film, and creates an entirely unique feeling of disbelief. However, I do acknowledge the attempt to connect younger audiences with music from the past, which I sincerely hope was the main intention behind that decision. It may look good on paper, but it’s in the same category as having electro-funk in a 1930’s party in his Gatsby adaptation.

But, as the film reaches its climax, everything starts to come together in a truly engrossing and spectacular fashion. And coincidentally, through Luhrmann’s style, we as an audience are given the best chance to experience the atmosphere of Elvis’s concerts in a way no other filmmaker could have pulled off. This film shines through during its last hour/45 minutes, capping off with an incredibly moving ending that will surely make your bottom lip quiver, and it makes the journey through worth it in the end – even though that journey might be harrowing and haphazardly put together.

What We Think: B-, In substance it stumbles, but through a mesmeric performance from Austin Butler and Luhrmann’s avant-garde style, Elvis accomplishes everything in terms of spectacle, and gives a worthy tribute to the king of rock and roll.