Elvis is one of the big films to be released this year as it sees Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann make a return to the big screen since his 2013 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Starring Austin Butler as the titular musician, Elvis Presley, the film chronicles his turbulent relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) and his attempts to balance an incredibly successful singing career and a family life with wife, Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) and daughter, Lisa-Marie. It’s a dazzling film that is relentless in storytelling yet simultaneously tells a tragic story about a talented individual who is consistently taken advantage of, culminating in a sad end that sees him addicted to drugs and unable to break free from his manager’s clutches.
The film is directed by Baz Luhrmann who cowrote the script with Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce and Jeremy Doner. As expected from a Luhrmann film, Elvis is a striking film that believes in a “more is more” philosophy, cramming in plenty of visual symbolism and cultural references to emphasise the setting of the film. Luhrmann knows how to craft a film that coincides with music and while the script may be hefty coming in at 160 minutes with odd pacing at time, it allows us to see a side to Elvis that the audience never got to see. There are certain elements that are looked over as it’s clear that Luhrmann wants to ensure that Elvis is portrayed in as positive a light as possible, while also ensuring that Parker is the clear villain of the film which is does.
Austin Butler beat out a ton of big names to portray the musician. His Elvis doesn’t feel like a cheap imitation in the way that many musician biopics do. Butler’s performance feels thoroughly researched and dedicated as there is a longing that Elvis has to better his career and a frustration as his attempts to try new things are stopped by Parker. The scenes in which Elvis confronts Parker about the latter’s behaviour is truly terrifying as all the tension and anger had bubbled to the surface. His singing performance is also excellent as it doesn’t feel as though he is trying to do a perfect match, but he does sound a lot like Elvis, making it difficult to separate which sounds and images are Butler and which are Elvis throughout.
Tom Hanks portrays Colonel Tom Parker in a role that sees him play against type. Hanks has been open in the past about not playing a villain, but it all changes when portraying Parker. An intriguing decision Luhrmann made was to shoot the film from Parker’s perspective, ultimately making him no different to an unreliable narrator. Parker is surprised by the accusations that have been thrown his way through the years and denies that he treated Elvis badly. Hanks’ performance is filled with deceit and deception as he manipulates Elvis into doing his business. While it may not seem obvious at first, his manipulation becomes more obvious and desperate as the film goes on. It will be surprising if Hanks is not brought into the Best Supporting Actor conversation come award season as it shows him tackling new range.
As with any Baz Luhrmann film, the cinemtography is a sight to behold. Collaborating with Luhrmann for a second time is Mandy Walker, who worked on his 2008 film, Australia. Walker conveys the delusion of show business and its ruthless nature. One moment we are at Elvis’ youth which is simplistic and more traditional in its style before diving into the bright, dizzying lights of Vegas and the swirling roulette tables that are always spinning as we see Elvis worked to the bone at the hands of his greedy manager.
One element that contributes to the striking aesthetic is the costume design by Catherine Martin. This is a film where the costumes become a character themselves as Elvis dons almost one hundred different costumes throughout the movie. What is impressive about Martin’s dedication to her craft is that she commissioned costumes that were made in exactly the same way that Elvis’ jumpsuits were made for the stage. This gives the costumes that authentic feeling without feeling silly or like a caricature. Even the elaborate stage costumes have a natural appearance about them as we have seen Elvis’ personal style develop over the course of the film’s 160 minute run.
The film is filled to the brim with Elvis classics, but what Luhrmann does that is always brilliant to see is tweak the music and incorporate a more modern film. In the same vein as Mounlin Rouge!, the soundtrack is filled with covers from current artists, showcasing the timelessness of Elvis’ music. What the sound department do brilliantly is combine the original Elvis vocals with the covers so it becomes one song, while the score and sound mixing is done brilliantly throughout the film so the audience are truly immersed in music, as though we were in Elvis’ mind.
Overall, Elvis may contain all the trademarks associated with Luhrmann’s filmography and it works beautifully with the film’s subject by showcasing the glitz and glamour of show business. With excellent leading performances from Butler and Hanks, it’s easy to imagine this film up for some nominations come awards season, even if there is a while to go.
What did you think of Elvis? Let me know in the comments below!
Elvis is available to view in cinemas now!