Elvis (2022) highlights Austin Butler’s mesmerising performance as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Famed Aussie director Baz Luhrmann explores the life of the king of rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley. Beginning with his childhood, the narrative goes into the highs and lows of his career and relationships, right up until his untimely and tragic passing in 1977.

The first major element that set Elvis up for critical and commercial success is the presence of Baz Lurhmann in the writer/director chair. His distinct visual style, editing prowess and unique approach to storytelling completely flips the script on the traditional music biopic. This is by no means the very grounded and straightforward approach of something like F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton. Certain events are very heightened and exaggerated for dramatic effect, while others are weaved in through montages or played down as more subtle dramatic beats. The intense highs and lows can at times come across as being too disjointed, jarring or choppy. There are a couple of moments where his style gets in the way of emotionally-impactful storytelling, but they’re few and far between. For the most part, his unique directing style works in creating a final product that’s inventive and engaging for die-hard lovers of Elvis Presley and newcomers alike.

One thing Baz knows how to accomplish really well is how to create a spectacle out of specific scenes or moments. Whenever he really hones in on an Elvis musical performance, he goes all-in on the production and spares no expense in ensuring he nails the tone and atmosphere. Even in terms of the emotional beats, he’s (mostly) able to switch tones on a dime and ensure the impact of the dialogue is felt, even when coming off the back of an upbeat sequence. It’s these big moments that take the narrative up a notch. The smaller scenes that progress the narrative are great too, but some of that can get overshadowed by his stylistic choices.

Speaking of the production, Baz Luhrmann has gone above and beyond to recreate life in the 1950s with grand cinematography (helmed by Mandy Walker), impressive set design and vibrant costuming. The entire production design just screams “Elvis”, which is fitting for the man who was known for his fashion as much as he was his music. Even in the instances where the story perhaps isn’t as gripping, you’re able to marvel at the beauty of what’s being presented.

Let’s get to the elephant in the room that I’ve refrained from mentioning – Austin Butler is perfect as Elvis Presley. When I say perfect, I mean perfect – he’s a dead ringer for the man himself, truly embodying everything about his look, his voice and his mannerisms. There are scenes where I have to say I was convinced I was watching the real Elvis, when really it was just Austin completely transforming into the legend. It’s a powerful performance that’s absolutely worthy of his Oscar nomination. I wouldn’t rule out him winning the Academy Award, but it will be a tough one, even despite the strength of his performance. There’s no question this film is elevated by Austin’s presence. If there’s a not-so-engaging scene, trust that his presence is enough to at least retain some level of narrative engagement.

Then on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Tom Hanks is a miscast of criminal proportions as Colonel Tom Parker. Between this film and Disney’s abysmal Pinocchio film, this man has had a rough year. In this film it’s his accent, the extensive prosthetics and his tonally jarring performance that really doesn’t work. His entire character is a walking distraction, and he plays a part in almost the entire movie. I understand that it’s Tom Hanks, so Baz has no doubt banked on his star power adding something to this film. But when you have the centrepiece being Austin Butler as Elvis, you don’t need Tom Parker to be played by a known face. Someone who could deliver a slightly more nuanced performance would have worked great, and especially if they didn’t need to wear those awful prosthetics. It’s a shame that one of the best performances of the year is accompanied by one of the worst.

In the end, Elvis is a musical biopic that uses its heightened approach to storytelling to forge a viewing experience that sets it apart from others of its kind. The biggest reason to check this film out (whether you’re an Elvis fan or not) is for Austin Butler’s spectacular performance. He transforms himself into the king of rock ‘n’ roll in every way a person can, entirely disappearing into the role and enhancing the immersion of every moment. The narrative stumbles a little and Tom Hanks’ presence is about as distracting as you can get, but despite those woes this is an engaging deep dive into the life of Elvis.



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