Austin Butler stars in Elvis as the magnetic King himself in this new film from Director Baz Luhrmann. Luhrmann pulls us in with the flashy metallic glitz and stark editing we remember from Moulin Rouge. It’s this style along with the mash up of old and new music – both from Elvis and modern rap artists that reflect the pace of a life in show business.
Tom Hanks plays Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker. With doughy prosthetics and a confusing accent, Hanks narrates the story from The Colonel’s perspective. He’s an ex-carnival showman who greedily hides in the shadows when he first sees Elvis performing, awaiting his inevitable predatory “snowman” payday. While I love Tom Hanks, his presence in this film is distracting at best.
The story’s timeline is less chronological fact and more nuanced with definable memories. Luhrmann creates feelings out of these moments as he shares Elvis’s relationship with his parents Gladys and Vernon. When he marries Priscilla (Olivia DeLong) it’s rushed through, but she remains a constant presence. The early success, the film career, the Army, the birth of Lisa Marie all pepper in along with the drug use in later years. Supporting roles from Dacre Montgomery (Steve Binder) and Luke Bracey (Jerry Schilling) stand out. The period wardrobe and historical looks, from the sideburns to the gold rings, are fantastic.
Elvis has left the building
My biggest takeaway is that this isn’t as much a biopic as it is a flashy, spiritual look at inspiration, idolatry and addiction. The best parts are the music performances, with an outstanding soundtrack. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (Gary Clark Jr.) coaxes soulful blues to a youthful Elvis. Then there’s Alton Mason as Little Richard on Beale Street with Big Mama Thornton (Shonka Dukureh) belting the Hound Dog blues. With friends like B.B. King, (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), we get a front row seat to Elvis capturing his spiritual and musical influences.
Charisma – that compelling attractiveness of charm that beckons devotion. Like Elvis, Austin Butler’s got it. He is outstanding and unforgettable, even singing a few of the tracks himself. When he performs on stage as Elvis with those sultry eyes, that rock and roll defiance and massive stamina, it takes your breath away. Every movement connects with adoring fans, encouraging more from him. Addictively, he keeps giving it over and over. The film edit of the song Suspicious Minds repeats, “We’re caught in a trap. I can’t walk out….because I love you too much baby.”