By JEREMY HOUSEWRIGHT
The King lives – at least for a couple hours in Baz Luhrmann’s new film “Elvis.”
This film is carried not by America’s favorite actor Tom Hanks, but rather Austin Butler, who loses himself as Elvis Presley. Luhrmann’s larger-than-life directorial style that made “Moulin Rouge” a hit is still present in the new biopic. The difference for me was that I loved this film.
Butler is at his best when the reins are pulled off and he is allowed to perform The King’s signature moves, thrusting his hips all over the stage. If Rami Malek won an Oscar for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury in a cookie cutter, Lifetime-like movie of the week (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), Butler should be a shoe-in playing Presley. Unlike “Rhapsody” – which was carried solely in Malek’s performance and a stunning final 15-minutes of the film – “Elvis” is a step up in just about every way.
Now, what about Tom Hanks? He’s great as usual, narrating much of the film and playing Colonel Tom Parker. Much of the film tells the story of Parker’s relationship and control over Presley. While there likely isn’t a movie lover who dislikes Hanks, the Colonel is definitely a departure for the actor. This will likely be Hanks’ most unlikable character to date. Nonetheless, the actor is his usual stellar self – even in a fat suit.
I thoroughly enjoyed Luhrmann’s storytelling of how Presley was so heavily influenced by Black music. He really shows how Presley felt at ease and was widely accepted into that culture of music led by the likes of BB King and Little Richard. Elvis truly was a rock star for all people.
My one criticism of the film is I would have liked to have seen more on Elvis’ relationship with Priscilla. Olivia DeJonge is great as Presley’s wife but it isn’t until the end of the film that we really see the pair come together and interact. It definitely left the audience wanting more about the marriage.
Overall, “Elvis” is one of the best biopics to come out about a famed musician during a time when it seems like we get a new one every year. While Val Kilmer still holds the trophy for best portrayal of an ill-fated musician (as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors”), the young star Butler is certainly next to Kilmer for his outstanding portrayal of Presley.
Elvis gets an A-.