Going into this movie I had my qualms. While I enjoyed most of what I saw in the official trailer of the film, I cringed when it came to Tom Hanks’ performance as Colonel Tom Parker. I was very much worried that his performance thoughout the film would totally tank this movie, and well, I had no idea if actor Austin Butler could completely pull off the iconic role of Elvis Presley. Well, I was both correct and incorrect on those concerns. On one hand, I was right that Tom Hanks is completely and utterly the wrong actor to portray Parker; however, I was wrong that Austin Butler could not completely embody the legendary Elvis. In fact the combination of the amazing work that director Baz Luhrmann (and his talented crew) with the incredible performance of Butler in the title role absolutely saves this movie and launches it quite highly. As for Hanks, though his presence does play a major part in this movie, it is the only thing that sadly keeps this film from achieving excellence.
The movie tells the story of Elvis Presley’s life and career from the perspective of his manager Colonel Tom Parker. Elvis, who grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Tupelo, Mississippi was inspired by both the gospel music of the black church along with the blues and jazz of the night clubs frequented by black people. One could say that Presley was touched by God and the devil. These types of music would eventually inspire the rock and roll music, through which Elvis would take the world by storm.
Now, while it wasn’t his songs and performances that first entered the world of music, it is the fact that he was one of the first white men to perform it that made it more accessible to white teenagers. All the while, carnival huckster-turned-music promoter Colonel Tom Parker saw opportunity and dollar signs. And it is this greed and avarice that would turn Presley into a controversial, but massively successful superstar. However, it would also lead to Elvis Presley’s unhappiness and eventual demise.
Written and directed by Baz Luhrmann, who co-wrote his story with Jeremy Doner, Sam Bromell, and Craig Pearce, Elvis is the rock and roll/pop biopic spectacle that comes so close to what the legend deserves. The writers do a great job of developing Presley as a sympathetic character without delving too much into the usual cliches and tropes that often permeate music biopics. There are some things that are simply unavoidable, but that comes with the territory. And as far as the production/look of the film is concerned, Luhrmann and his crew have done an outstanding job of recreating the different eras in which Elvis lived and performed. This includes some of the more iconic moments of his career.
And I simply cannot give enough praise to Austin Butler who is fantastic as Elvis. He brings tremendous energy and raw sexuality to Elvis’ stage performances and exudes beautiful charisma. He also sublimely and poignantly shows Elvis’s vulnerable side. Tom Hanks, on the other hand, should not have been cast as Col. Tom Parker. He is the sore thumb/weakest link in the movie. His affected accent is ridiculous, and it just doesn’t help that his makeup is also inconsistent throughout the film. As far as the other cast is concerned, I honestly have no other genuine complaints.
Now, even though Hanks is an ill fit for his character and this movie, I still highly recommend Elvis. Luhrmann and his team, along with Butler, have done such tremendous work with this movie, that it is still definitely worth watching. I also highly recommend watching it theatrically on the best sound system available. At my screening, Elvis was presented in a Dolby Cinema with superb projection and an outstanding sound system. If one has the opportunity to see it in this format, this is the only way to enjoy this movie.