Throughout my time as a cinephile, Baz Luhrmann has never been a director I’ve fully vibed with. Outside of Romeo + Juliet, the director’s filmography is one I’d often run from revisiting. However, Elvis Presley has been an artist whose music I’ve enjoyed for quite awhile, so when news first arrived that a biopic chronicling the life of the acclaimed artist, I was very excited, that is, until I saw who was helming the film.

Despite my love of Presley, it was difficult to become excited knowing my track record with the director. While the Cannes Film Festival’s 12 minute standing ovation during its premiere highlighted the potential greatness in Austin Butler’s portrayal and the film, I still walked into my screening with a level of hesitation. As the credits rolled, that hesitation transformed into satisfaction as Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is a bombastic journey about one of music’s greatest artist. Running on 1.21 gigawatts, it’s a vibrant and electric film that could only come from Luhrmann.

Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis does fall in line with the conventional biopic tropes as it follows the King of Rock n’ Roll’s rise from a relative unknown to one of the most iconic artists in music history. While the film follows familiar beats, Luhrmann takes a bit of a left turn by having the film’s narration fall at the feet of Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), Elvis’s controversial manager and who some blame for the king’s downfall. Told from Parker’s perspective, he attempts to deflect the blame for all his misgivings, while the films also shines a light on the negative effect Parker had on Presley.

As someone that’s been critical about the frantic energy Luhrmann brings to scenes in his films, the director’s frenetic pacing works well in Elvis. When transitioning through Presley’s rise, Luhrmann is quick with his cuts that may come off as undisciplined, but work within the contexts of the film as the energy bestowed by Luhrmann match the electricity Presley would bring to the stage through the majority of his career.

As with most Luhrmann films, the production and costume design are immaculate. Throughout his career, Presley had an intricate and impressive wardrobe and Luhrmann and costume designer Catherine Martin were up to the task of replicating those designs and they do it in impressive fashion. Martin has received an Academy Award nomination for 4 of Baz’s films and it’s safe to say shell land her 5th for this film.

Mandy Walker’s cinematography works within the contents of the film’s frenetic pacing as she gives each decade a vibrant, distinctive look, elevating the film’s retro look and feel.

Despite the technical aspects of the film working, the success of Elvis should be measured on Austin Butler’s performance. Butler is up to the task as his portrayal is transcendent and breathtaking. A deeply rich performance that explores the shaping of Elvis’s identity both on the stage and with his family.

Butler evokes Presley’s mannerisms to a tee and channels the spirit of the King anytime he takes the stage to perform. It’s not just a defining performance in the career of Butler, but one that’s set to take the actor into superstardom. An Oscar nomination, likely, but an Oscar win? That’s surely not off the table.

Tom Hanks, however, that’s another story. The two-time Academy Award winner has been under the critical microscope since the debut of the trailers. While Hanks never reaches the parody of Jared Leto’s performance in House of Gucci, the performance does reach levels of hilarity, especially with Parker’s love of Christmas music. It’s a performance that won’t land the Oscar winner any award nominations, but ironically a performance that feels right at home in a Baz Luhrmann film.

Where Elvis fails is in its use of Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley. While Priscilla is an important part in Presley’s life, it felt as though Baz did not feel she would be needed to be a crucial part of his film. DeJonge is given the “trophy wife” treatment and rather than diving into the 10 year difference between the couple, Luhrmann flies through and leaves their relationship on the back burner.

While Priscilla wasn’t a focal point for Luhrmann, the overuse of modern music in his period pieces continue one of his most annoying cinematic ticks. I hated every use of it in The Great Gatsby, and was equally perturbed by its use in Elvis.

Ultimately, Elvis is a huge swing by Baz Luhrmann and mostly hits. A glitzy visual feast that will take cinephiles on a journey through a life cut short and one that’s left an impact that continues to elevate Presley to icon status.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.