Biopics, particularly music biopics, are a tricky business. There’s a market for them currently – the success of films like Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody indicate the hunger from audiences to see actors transform into their favourite singers, Stars in Their Eyes-style, but the challenge remains – how to make a film that’s more than a filmed Wikipedia article of a star’s life? Rocketman largely succeeded by cannily transforming the life of Elton John into a musical through the vehicle of his own songs, while Rhapsody sank into an embarrassingly simplified version of Freddie Mercury’s life, one that too often tipped over to pure caricature. The life of Elvis Presley, then, is especially risky territory – a figure so larger-than-life that caricature is all but assured. Thank goodness, then, for Austin Butler. In Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, Butler achieves something quite remarkable. His performance is transformative, yes, but also full of pathos, fragility, and most crucially, humanity, shades of the King of Rock’n’Roll that were so often hidden from the public and yet so intrinsic to what made this game-changing icon tick.
Anchored by a tremendous performance by relative unknown Austin Butler, whiz-bang Australian auteur Baz Luhrmann blazes back onto the big screen with a typically messy, indulgent but undeniably moving and inventive take on the life of the King.
His performance is surrounded by the vision of Australian auteur Luhrmann, who largely avoids the pitfalls of a fairly anodyne script by doing what he does best – as with Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet and The Great Gatsby, Luhrmann’s hyperactive, ultra-maximalist style is on full display here, all glittering lights, swerving camera moves, jittery edits and a cavalcade of anachronism and ahistoricism that’s thrilling to behold. No one makes films quite like Luhrmann, who blends modern pop culture sensibilities with old-world settings, and it’s a joy that he’s still able to paint on canvases so thrillingly expansive as this. The film traces almost the entirety of Elvis’ career, largely through the eyes of Presley’s hideous, Machiavellian manager Colonel Parker, as played by Tom Hanks, in a rare villain turn. Hanks is positively cartoonish in the role, mugging for the camera, drowning under acres of prosthetic makeup and wielding a shaky German accent. It’s all part of Luhrmann’s glitzy, high-sugar blueprint – everything is turned up to eleven, up to and including the moustache-twirling bad guy. As with any Luhrmann film, the maximalism occasionally fades into outright messiness, the sprawl of the film both a blessing and a curse. Luhrmann tackles each era of Elvis with inspired intensity and verve, crafting an at-times overwhelming whirligig of visual invention. It’s all held together by the soulfulness of Butler, whose Presley is, tellingly, the only part of the story that isn’t cartoonish, isn’t overcooked. The story of Elvis Presley is, ultimately, a tragedy, and this story ends as any tragedy does. As the film enters its heartbreaking final stretch, its Butler’s portrayal that carries an emotional wallop, and Luhrmann commendably dials his signature style back in these sequences. When the film eventually segues to footage of Elvis himself in the final weeks of his life, it’s genuinely devastating.
Movie title: Elvis (Baz Luhrmann, 2022)
Movie description: Anchored by a tremendous performance by relative unknown Austin Butler, whiz-bang Australian auteur Baz Luhrmann blazes back onto the big screen with a typically messy, indulgent but undeniably moving and inventive take on the life of the King.
Date published: June 23, 2022
Country: AUS, USA
Author: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner
Director(s): Baz Luhrmann
Actor(s): Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge
Genre: Biography, Drama, Music