Austin Butler stars as Elvis Presley in Elvis, a retelling of the rock ‘n’ roll legend and his rise to stardom, as well as the hardships he faced throughout his life.
Elvis Presley is, and will always be known, as one of the greatest musical artists that ever lived. His music and stage presence was what set him apart from every other performer in the 1950s, so it was just a matter of time until an in-depth retelling of his life was brought to the big screen. Many would believe they are aware of all there is to know about a star whose whole life was on display to the public, but director Baz Luhrmann proves all doubters wrong. He gives us an in-depth look into Presley’s private life and how events unfolded, making the film gripping from start to finish.
Elvis doesn’t waste time informing you of unnecessary information. With a runtime of 2 hours and 39 minutes, it would be easy to assume there are moments that deter your undivided attention, but this isn’t the case. We are immediately introduced to the antagonist of Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), who was Elvis’s talent manager from the start to the very end of his career. The opening ominously looks at the end of his life, taking viewers on the journey of how he discovered Elvis. His performance as Parker is exceptional—he was a character who felt no mercy for anyone, and was extremely selfish, but always seemed to be one step ahead.
Austin Butler’s performance as Elvis is phenomenal. Although many critics and fans were apprehensive about the casting, he delivers the role extremely accurately. With multiple performances throughout the film, he nails Elvis’s distinctive dance movements and soulful tone of voice when singing. Not only that, but he also presents himself in a way that was cool, calm and sophisticated, each a trait that Elvis possessed whilst being in the spotlight. In fact, there are multiple times throughout the film where it is difficult to tell whether it is Austin Butler performing, or archived footage.
Elvis follows Elvis Presley’s life from when he was a child, right up until his death. There are many moments in the film that highlight what Elvis was influenced by musically, which shaped the artist he became. Luhrmann made sure to show viewers the immense cultural impact that the black musicians he listened to gave him, and how much he learned from them. From his childhood to the beginning of his career, his music was inspired by southern country and gospel, as well as jazz and the blues. Unfortunately, this was not accepted very well by the white community in the 1950s, which led to Elvis being threatened by the police that he would be in legal trouble if he continued to make music of this genre. Highlighting this so heavily in the film gave a huge insight into how the black community was treated at this time, and how Elvis’s support of them negatively impacted society.
Not only that, but the film also shows how Elvis was one of the first artists to pave the way for ‘fandom’ culture – even in the 50s. At the beginning of his career, people were confused as to why his fans screamed and cried at his concerts, and found it unsettling. But as he grows in fame, crowds get bigger, and the formation of a new way to behave toward celebrities at live shows is created.
The cinematography is full of sparkling lights and bright colours in the early days of his career, and features shiny red cars and yellow spotlights following Elvis everywhere he goes. However, as he ages and his personal life begins to deteriorate, it becomes a lot more gloomy, cloudy and dark. The use of setting, colour and environment helps dictate the current state of life that Elvis is in, which is satisfying for a viewer.
Although there are many great elements throughout, it is hard to ignore that, mostly, the story of Elvis seems to be shot through rose-tinted glasses. Of course, he is a renowned musical legend. But, throughout his life, he was known to be quite a problematic individual, which was only very lightly touched upon in regards to the length of the film. For example, it was shown that he cheated on his wife, Priscilla, multiple times, but it was not a major plot point in the film. It only seemed to serve the purpose of showing how he was tired and suffering from personal issues, but not to show his mistakes thoroughly, almost as if Lurhamm was afraid to tarnish Presley’s legacy with the reality of his actions.
Austin Butler and Tom Hanks ultimately work as an amazing duo to portray the life of Elvis Presley and his talent manager, Tom Parker. However, the pacing of the film was extremely fast, and there were a few elements that would have been nice to see explored further.
Overall, Elvis is an electric interpretation of the rock and roll king that goes by in the blink of an eye. Austin Butler’s performance of Elvis was one that could be career-defining for him, making it worth a watch, despite its flaws.
Words by Connie Burke
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.