chicago – Editor’s Note: This Review runs initially On June 22, 2022, “Elvis” will be released. In light of the film’s recent premiere on digital platforms, it has been re-released.
Absurdity is part of the “Elvis” point of view. It’s important to know to get in, otherwise the film’s frenetic opening performance could be downright offensive, not just mildly overwhelming. His signature flashy style was established in films such as “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet”, “Moulin Rouge!” and more. And The Great Gatsby director Baz Luhrmann is now turning his camp-inspired minimalism to rock king Elvis Presley. While the results were very uneven, the highs were too high (and outrageous) to miss.
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More than just a game-changing musician, Luhrmann sees Elvis as a mythical American character, maybe even a full-blown superhero – he sets the film’s tone on Orson Welles between “Citizen Kane” and Sam Raimi’s “Spider”. -The Man” trilogy. It’s as exhilarating as it is exhausting, and even Luhrmann’s rhinestone-infused touches can’t quite control this 159-minute behemoth. The film moves from detached style to moment of substantial originality, transforming Routine for one boring musical biography after another. (One scene is set for the Doja Cat diss track; the other is one of the most perfunctory “tragic marriage breakup” scenes in biopic history.) Maybe that’s why “Elvis” in Somehow contains one of the film’s best musical biographical performances — and one of the worst.
About “Elvis”: A Hunk, a Hunk with Burning Love
The good stuff belongs to Austin Butler, a former Disney and Nickelodeon tween star whose performance is shockingly full and makes it feel like Elvis has his soul to make it happen. Unfortunately, the bad stuff belongs to Tom Hanks, whose cartoonish appearance as Elvis’ manipulative manager, Colonel Tom Parker, in a fat suit is so grossly miscalibrated, it almost seems intentional.
In Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “Elvis,” Tom Hanks plays Colonel Tom Parker and Austin Butler plays Elvis.Image credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Maybe so. The structure of the film has some interesting gimmicks. While “Elvis” is in many ways a classic life-and-death biopic, depicting nearly every major milestone in Elvis’ life, what really drives the story is the Colonel’s hyperbole, as the former Mardi Gras Buck Retelling the story of Elvis tells the story in an otherworldly way. Luhrmann was less interested in Elvis as a three-dimensional man than as an icon and cultural object—a side show, as the Colonel put it. This gave Butler the freedom to play a character actor rather than a traditional male lead, which most importantly made his performance successful.
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While a scene or two suggests there are limits to what Butler can do when it comes to conveying the weight of dramatic narrative through dialogue, his captivating physical performance fits perfectly with Luhrmann’s vision of Elvis, a taciturn but soulful people. Whether he’s pulling out a mournful “mom” or causing mass hysteria with his signature pelvic “wiggle,” Butler doesn’t play the role, he embodies it. If Hanks’ comic turn is the key to unlocking Butler’s more subtle acting skills, maybe it’s worth it.
See “Elvis”: its unique core performance
Austin Butler plays Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ TV series “ELVIS,” which is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.Image credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Particularly impressive is Butler’s masterful development of Elvis’ physicality over his decade-long career, from the electric pulses of 1950s live performances to the Hollywood-era swagger of the 1960s to the 1970s Victorians. The flashy confidence (and eventual, tragic decline) of Garth’s reinvention. In fact, in Presley’s culture-shifting career, you’d pretty much wish Luhrmann would go all-in with this two-part epic Made into an epic that truly gives every era its due. As is, the film sags a little in the middle, and that’s where you get the most immediate sense that it was created with the approval of Presley’s surviving family members who have a vested interest in protecting his image. (Using the Colonel as an all-encompassing villain is an easy cheat code for the biography of the saint.)
Luhrmann was on a more stable footing in the 1950s and 1970s, where he found thematic emphasis on portraying the invention and reinvention of Presley’s stage role. If there’s one thing Luhrmann understands, it’s acting skills. And “Elvis” is at its best when it explores the unique combination of instinct, ambition, timing, and obsession with a dizzying audience that propelled its titular character to the unprecedented success.
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On stage, Butler is truly otherworldly, blending the innocence of a teenybopper with the sensuality of pop-punk and glam rock. (He provided most of his own singing for the 1950s portion of the film.) Lurhmann was less interested in realism than in capturing it felt I love watching Elvis perform. He portrays the famous screams that the real-life Presley elicits from the audience as a spiritual ecstasy, one by one overtaking the crowd, like an admirer passing out in a revival.
The first half of the film also speaks candidly about Elvis’ success as a white face who can add a little country flair to black rhythm and blues. (In a moment of sharp irony, the Colonel’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head when he realized he had found a socially acceptable way to market black music to a segregated white American audience.) Lurhmann— —He previously co-created the hip-hop origin story series “The Get Down” — a serious effort to highlight Elvis’ black contemporaries, from famous musicians like BB King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Little Richard (Alton Mason) to freshman Known influences such as Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (Shonka Dukureh), Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Yola Quartey) and Arthur Crudup (Gary Clark Jr.). But as “Elvis” moved forward with the next big idea of Presley’s career, the line flies too fast.
YOLA plays Sister Rosetta Sape in Warner Bros. Pictures’ TV series “ELVIS”, which is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.Image credit: Cairns Kenner
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For better or worse, Lurhmann prioritizes his claims over breadth over depth. Nonetheless, this “more is more” approach works well for a film that is more interested in externalities than internals. Lurhmann uses all the film equipment in the book to bring Elvis’ story to life – from the 1940s comic book panels representing Elvis’ childhood dreams to the 1960s color film credits that cover his film career. While “Elvis” has too many ideas to truly be a cohesive story, what Luhrmann’s expansive, hyperactive approach lacks in unity, it makes up for in the director’s unequivocal love for his central characters, which The love seems to only deepen as Elvis’ jumpsuits become more gorgeous and sparkly.
And while Hanks’ performance shrugged off Luchmann’s signature hyperbole, Butler knew how to work within it — ground the film in some way, and then let it skyrocket. His version of Elvis is the god on stage and him offstage, but equally compelling in both modes. It’s one of the annual performances in an often messy but rarely dull movie. Long live the king, really.
Austin Butler plays Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “Elvis,” released by Warner Bros. Pictures.Image credit: Hugh Stewart
Rated PG-13. 159 minutes. Table of contents: Buzz Luhrmann. feature: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJongeHelen Thomson,Richard RoxburghLuke Bracey, David Wenham, Natasha Bassett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Cody Smit-McPhee.
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How to watch ‘Elvis’
“Elvis” is currently available for rent or purchase on VOD. It will be released on September 13th on 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD.
About the author: Caroline Siede is a film and TV critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she spent four years analyzing the romantic comedy genre time and time again for AV clubs in her column “When Romance Meets Comedy.” She also co-hosts the movie podcast, role calland shared her thoughts on pop culture on Twitter (@Carolyn Sid).
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