Shake those hips, wiggle that butt, and prepare to be entertained, because hitting UK and US cinemas today is the highly anticipated movie, Elvis. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, and starring Austin Butler, and Tom Hanks, Elvis is a musical bio-pic which recounts the life and career of the king of rock ‘n’ roll himself, Mr. Elvis Presley.
The film begins in 1997, with Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, on his deathbed and looking back on his life with the singer. The story then flashes back to the mid-1950s to explain how the two met, before moving forward in time to showcase the highs and lows of Presley’s moment in the spotlight.
In total, Elvis spans more than a fifty-year period to cover everything in Presley’s life, from his childhood and the music that influenced his career, through to his meteoric rise to stardom. The film showcases the impact he had on an entire generation of youngsters, includes his marriage to wife Priscilla, and of course ends with his sad death at the far-too young age of 42.
Elvis also focuses very heavily on the close and turbulent relationship between Presley and his manager. In fact, this relationship forms the backbone of the entire picture, and this film is very much about the Presley/Parker pairing, rather than just a story about the legendary singer.
So, while Elvis is a movie about the King, it is also a film about Colonel Tom Parker. I’m mentioning this now, because it is rather significant.
My general feeling on Elvis is that this is a very good movie, and I like it greatly. I have plenty of positive things to discuss about the film, and I will come to them momentarily.
However, Elvis does have a couple of issues. And yes, one of those issues relates to the way the film handles the Presley/Parker story, so bear with me for a moment.
I’ll get this out of the way first, because I do want to speak about all of the good stuff. My biggest issue with Elvis is that the film is never quite sure who it wants to focus on.
The movie is titled Elvis, yet the story focuses very heavily on Colonel Tom Parker. This is understandable, as Parker played such a significant role in Presley’s career, but I do feel the title is a little misleading.
It is Parker who narrates the tale, it is Parker who gets a great deal of screen time, and at times this movie is very much a picture about how Parker influenced (and manipulated) Presley’s career. So, calling this film Elvis, but then spending so much time telling a story about Parker seems a little off.
And because this film spends so much time on Parker, there are moments where it feels like the audience is not being put in Presley’s shoes enough. For a good chunk of the film, Presley seems somewhat detached from the story, and it’s difficult to ever get a handle on his thoughts and emotions.
I wanted to be put into Presley’s head, to understand his feelings throughout the film. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen and I believe this does rob the movie of some of its emotional weight.
My other issue with Elvis is that at times it all feels a little like a patchwork piece, with a bit here slapped onto a piece there. Presley’s life was very interesting, with lots of things to talk about, yet the movie seems to zip past huge sections of his story, to jump from one plot point to the next, in order to string everything together.
For example, Presley’s dip in popularity in the late 1960s is not fully fleshed out on screen, with the movie essentially skipping past this section quite swiftly. As a result, his subsequent ‘comeback’ never seems quite as monumental as it should.
I believe the key problem here is that this movie tries to cram in a lot of material, but loses focus on some of the important milestones. At times it seems to place its attention in the wrong area, and this causes the story to feel never quite as strong as it should.
But that’s it. That is all the criticism that I am going to chuck at Elvis.
Outside of this I enjoyed Elvis immensely. I found the film to be very entertaining, incredibly spectacular, and occasionally moving.
I should begin my praise by discussing the lead actors, Austin Butler, who plays Presley, and Tom Hanks, who takes on the role of Parker. Both of these actors are outstanding in this film.
Starting with Butler, every time he is on screen it is difficult to take your eyes off him. He looks like Presley, he talks like Presley, and he has the swagger and attitude of Presley.
Butler doesn’t perform as Elvis Presley; he becomes Elvis Presley. He somehow manages to embody this huge cultural icon in a way that few actors have done before, to ensure he is delivering a performance which is respectful and in no way a caricature.
He is so good at impersonating Presley that while watching this movie I wanted to be in the crowd at one of his concerts, I wanted to talk to him backstage, and I wanted to go out and buy all his records. I also wanted to know where he got some of his shirts from, because quite frankly, he looks so damn cool in this movie.
I like Elvis Presley; I wouldn’t call myself a super-fan, but I like his music. If I went to see this movie, knowing nothing about Presley and not being all that interested in his story, I would come out of it feeling far more engaged, and that is all because of how Butler plays this role.
But it isn’t just Butler who is fantastic in this film, Tom Hanks is equally as impressive as Colonel Tom Parker. Hanks is always good value for money, with so many great roles under his belt, but here he demonstrates why he is such a popular, well-respected, and truly scene-stealing actor.
Hidden under make-up and prosthetics, Hanks is at times practically unrecognisable as the scheming Parker. He plays this role to absolute perfection, managing to hide away his star status as Hanks the actor, to allow his character to completely take over.
Yes, I have quibbles about how much screentime Parker gets in this bio-pic, but I simply can’t fault what Hanks delivers. He is incredibly captivating throughout, and even though the film shows Parker in an unpleasant light, and you certainly don’t want to root for him, Hanks still makes his character so damn interesting to watch.
The pairing of Butler and Hanks is truly superb. These two are this movie’s biggest asset.
Elvis also benefits from having director Baz Luhrmann calling the shots. With Presley being the huge, international icon that he is, it is difficult to imagine a director who could deliver his story in a way that is both grand and spectacular, but with Luhrmann this is what you get.
Luhrmann’s somewhat erratic, over-the-top style (as previously seen in Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge, etc) is exactly what this story calls for. He brings glitz and glamour to the screen, to ensure this film feels like an epic show-stopper worthy of the King, whilst also delivering a picture that can work for modern audiences.
Perhaps the best praise I can give Elvis is that Luhrmann manages to take a musician from the 1950s, who is quite far removed from the musicians of the modern era, and make him feel contemporary. I whole heartedly believe that if you have teenagers in your house, and they wish to go see this film (which is a 12A by the way), they will fall in love with Elvis Presley.
This is because Luhrmann finds a way to make Elvis feel current, even though this film is a period piece. The director does this largely though the movie’s soundtrack, which includes a mix of Presley hits, some sung by Austin Butler, and others sung by pop acts who are currently topping the charts.
This mash of artists, styles, and genres gives Elvis an edge over other bio-pics, which tend to focus on presenting traditional takes on songs. It also mixes things up a little, to keep things interesting and hip!
And for the record, most of Presley’s iconic songs appear in this movie. Some are glossed over a little too quickly for my liking (*cough* ‘The Wonder of You’), but the majority of his iconic hits are featured.
Now outside of all this, Elvis looks top notch, offers plenty of interesting historical references to the time period it relates to, and it never feels like it drags. This alone is good going, because this movie does clock in at a whopping 159-minutes, which is around 3-hours with trailers.
But to tell a story about a musical icon who is this renowned, the film needs a lengthy run-time. All-in-all, this film feels epic and that’s kind of what you want from an Elvis Presley movie.
For my money, for the small price of a ticket, Elvis offers plenty of entertainment. If you’re looking for a good night out over the summer, pairing this movie up with a nice meal would prove to be a winning combination.
Despite a few grumbles which stop it from being perfect, Elvis is spectacular nevertheless. I now need to spend the next few hours listening to his music on loop, while pretending I can sing like the King.