Taking on one of the biggest culture icons of the 20th century, Austin Butler dives deep into the roots of Elvis Presley and provides an extremely invigorating and dedicated performance. The rest of the film matches Butler’s energy, but struggles to tap into the emotional core of the king of rock and roll.
Musical biopics are slowly entering the fray within the film industry and if you look closely, there is a formulaic approach to unveiling these musical icons’ lives. Baz Luhrmann certainly attempts to break the mould with Elvis as he attempts to unpack the triumph and chaotic life of Elvis Presley in a short 2 hours and 39 minutes. Despite the lengthy runtime, the film still feels really rushed as there are too few moments where we really get to settle in and connect with the characters. Now, don’t get it twisted – the film is still quite bloated, but this mostly stems from a dense portion of the film being entangled with Presley’s deranged manager Colonel Tom Parker. There is certainly a high level of exhaustion felt once those credits roll and I can’t help but wonder if this was Luhrmann’s point to begin with. Perhaps we are meant to be feeling as exhausted as Elvis was during his Las Vegas days, and the sensory overload from a production standpoint would certainly support that. Luhrmann may just be one of the few directors capable of bringing us into the shoes of Elvis as he injects a high level of stimuli into each frame and each beat. It is certainly an acquired taste, but I believe that there were moments to ground characters amongst the chaos.
One of the most impressive elements was how it presented the Elvis Presley persona and how the idea of Elvis took over America. Representing liberation in a time of segregation and oppression, Elvis reflects how liberating the icon truly was – particularly musically, sexually and racially. Elvis Presley was met with initial controversy due to the influences coming from the inspired works of coloured artists in the Rock’n’Roll genre, and the film emphasises his connection with those works. The film never shies away from exploring the rebellious nature of Elvis when met with powerful figures attempting to corrupt his career, but it also never stops showing us the benevolence of Elvis and his desire to influence good. Luhrmann is persistent in revealing the impact that Elvis had on all corners of the world, and Luhrmann’s stylistic use of hyperbole is the only way to powerfully convey the cultural impact he had on the world. Under any other direction, it is likely that Elvis would have been another disposable musical biopic and the fact that it goes for something outrageous and chaotic, it gets my respect.
Another aspect that is well-deserving of my respect is Austin Butler, as I am sure he now propels himself into Hollywood superstardom. I am sure that Butler has studied extensively for this role as he transforms into the king – encapsulating his mannerisms, movements and temperament. Butler has revealed bits and pieces of his commitment towards playing this role with full authenticity and yes, that really is Butler singing in a lot of the concert sequences. There is something iconic about Elvis Presley creating a star out of Austin Butler. Tom Hanks attempts to play a more eccentric version of his real-life counterpart by switching the accents and overall speech pattern – think evil Woody with a malicious plan.
Director of Photography, Mandy Walker, is completely in tune with the director as she only elevates the extravagant energy of Luhrmann and it fits the film’s tone. The composition and framing aren’t as flashy or eccentric as you’d expect from a film of this calibre, but the camera certainly moves to the beat of the music and the lighting creates some electrifying sequences. It stays visually interesting as it implements different visual styles of storytelling, such as animated comic-book sequences or black and white photography. The costuming is exactly what you’d expect from an Elvis Presley film – from all-leather outfits, white jumpsuits and high-waisted pegged pants – it captures his style and the film itself has a sense of evolution in costuming with it as they continue to get more flashy as it progresses. Likewise, with the make-up and hairstyling for the film, albeit not much can be said of Tom Hanks’ prosthetics, there is a real evolution to the character as the film attempts to cover his life at a rapid pace.
Set to the tempo of 170 BPM, Baz Luhrmann invites the audience into the pace and mayhem of the iconic musical artist’s life with far too little substance. There are many different takeaways from this erratic and bizarre biopic but one thing is for sure, the life of Elvis Presley is too much for a feature length film.