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Elvis: A Hero to Most

Posted by February 7th, 2023 1 Comment »

Elvis (2022)
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring Tom Hanks, Austin Butler and Olivia DeJonge

I am not a fan of Elvis. Not his music, not his films and not his persona. I am, however, a big fan of Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 Elvis biopic. From the get go, this characteristically frantic filmmaker convinced me that Elvis Presley is a historical figure I should care about.

Luhrmann’s Elvis feels hyperreal. The film’s editing and time jumps make two-and-a-half-hours fly by, and Austin Butler convinces us he is the “King” during every segment of the character’s life. Each actor in the film is convincing except for one major role, that of Colonel Tom Parker played with abandon by veteran actor Tom Hanks. Was Parker the vile “Snowman” the film paints him to be? Maybe, but Hanks’ performance is out of place. Butler creates empathy and intrigue around his character, whereas Hanks seems to be auditioning for the fourth Austin Powers film opposite Mike Myers. Tonally, it just doesn’t work.

By putting form over function, Luhrmann became a bonafide studio moneymaker with gorgeous films like Romeo + Juliet (1996), Moulin Rouge! (2001) and even 2008’s Australia, which focused on the artistic journey and visual audacity of filmmaking. With the Great Gatsby (2013), he married his visual feasts with top-tier acting from Leonardo DiCaprio and Carrie Mulligan. The result was a film that showed viewers the grand world of 1920’s New York, both visually and through the pathos of its main characters. This pairing of stunning visuals and strong acting continues with Elvis, but unfortunately only via the main character. Colonel Tom Parker is a major part of Elvis’ story, but with Hanks in the role it limited my suspension of disbelief each time he spoke in his bizarre Belgium accent and twirled his mustache villainously. I would have liked to see a brilliant character actor like Stephen Root, John Carroll Lynch, or Ben Mendelssohn in the role, or even fellow leading man Gary Oldman.

Having modern music play over historical events seems to work for certain film makers, and Lurhmann is one of them. That said, at times Elvis feels like it was remixed by kids on Tiki Tok… but there’s a sheen of old Hollywood covering it to make it cinematic.

Never boring, always moving forward, it separates itself from good “paint by numbers” biopics of late like Respect (2021), Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and Straight Outta Compton (2015). The only recent music biopic that matches Elvis in intensity and performance of the main character is Rocketman (2019).

With Elvis, Baz Luhrmann has cemented himself as a cinematic auteur who writes and directs glorious feature films, the kind that that are edited at a breakneck speed but still show the humanity the stories require. The costumes, set designs and editing flair is enough to entice anyone. Add in Butler’s performance and you have an instant classic. Just close your eyes and plug your ears when you hear Tom Hanks say the words “Snow job.”

If Respect, Bohemian Rhapsody, Straight Outta Compton and Rocketman range from B- to A- Elvis fits comfortably in the middle with a B.

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