I don’t know what I really expected going into Elvis, the recent biopic about the world-famous and best-selling solo musician of all time, Elvis Presley. Knowing that Baz Luhrmann was the director was certainly a big draw. If nothing else, his films are stylistic dreamscapes: lush, ostentatious, and to be quite frank, extremely pretty. The Australian auteur is no stranger to the telling of epic stories, and I don’t think any other director could have tackled the story of Elvis Presley with more grace, grit, passion, or panache. His respect for his subject is evident in every frame, as is his love for glitter and bombast. The man loves his pyrotechnics, and any film about the King of Rock and Roll would be remiss without them.
Austin Butler’s Elvis is no caricature. It would have been extremely easy to allow a performance such as this one to veer into mockumentary territory, but Butler has the acting chops to steer the ship in a much more honest and human direction. His Elvis is wholly real. His dreams and ambitions, choked and stymied by the pressures of fame and the realities of being the biggest star in the world, take a back burner to maintaining the image of Elvis, the moneymaker and icon as opposed to the man himself. He’s not only playing Elvis; for 2 hours and 39 minutes, he is Elvis.
Butler’s universally-acclaimed performance already has many talking about him as the front-runner for next year’s Oscar for the Best Actor in a Leading Role. I agree. It goes without saying that he will be nominated, and unless I see another performance that is so riveting it takes my breath away, I will safely assume he’ll be walking away with a golden statue that night. The film also benefits from strong supporting performances from everyman Tom Hanks, who plays Presley’s slimy manager/promoter Colonel Tom Parker; and Olivia DeJonge, in her mainstream debut as Priscilla Presley. According to DeJonge in an interview she did with British Vogue, she found out she had landed the role some four months after her audition in a text message from Luhrmann’s team. Needless to say, I think we’ll be seeing much more from her.
Finally, I want to talk about the costumes in this film. With a style icon like Elvis Presley as the subject matter, any costume designer would have more than a full plate’s worth of work ahead of them in recreating the entertainer’s iconic looks. Catherine Martin, a four-time Oscar winner and the wife of Baz Luhrmann, has worked on a slew of his previous films: Romeo + Juliet (1996), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Australia (2008), and The Great Gatsby (2013). Her work in Elvis is nothing short of spectacular, somehow managing to take the familiar and making it fresh, vivacious, and exciting. I think she’ll be adding another Oscar to her shelf come next year.
All in all, I really enjoyed Elvis. Was it a perfect film? No, but I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect film, at least not when you’re recreating the lives of real people, some of whom are still living. I think it captured the spirit of Elvis and what he’s meant to American culture. I also think it managed to illuminate who he was as a person apart from the bright lights and big stages he graced while on Earth. The pain is there, sure, but so is the passion. The love and devotion, the heartache, the beauty and the fame. The flame snuffed out far too soon. That’s more than anyone could ask.
Elvis was released in the United States on June 24th, 2022 by Warner Bros. Pictures and is now available to stream on HBO Max as well as other streaming and video on demand platforms.
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