Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” is without a doubt the quintessential “King of Rock n’ Roll” biopic. An exhilarating, dancing in the aisles, moving Shakespearean experience that beautifully captures the soul of the icon in all his facets, depicting the human being beneath the mythical image. Projecting the heart and soul of Elvis Presley in each and every frame.
Growing up in the 1970s with his music seemingly never to be off of my mum’s turntable it holds a special place in my heart. More than ever now through the mists of time his music feels as if it was the soundtrack to my pre-teen years. Along with his movies making a lasting impression on me.
So when first hearing of “Elvis” (previously known as TCB) I was excited but also apprehensive as John Carpenter‘s “Elvis” starring Kurt Russell was, to this point, the definitive Elvis biopic and felt it could never be bettered. How wrong was that assumption.
To be perfectly honest the main aspect that had me a little hesitant with the first trailer was Austin Butler as Elvis. Due to the fact that he does not look like him. Then again no one apart from his daughter, grandchildren, and to a degree Kurt Russell, do. Once the trailer was experienced on the big screen the apprehension completely evaporated.
Butler from his first appearance was quite simply sensational! Absolutely nailing every aspect of Elvis with his empathic, award winning portrayal. Inhabiting wonderfully not only the myth and legend, but most importantly the very real person behind the curtain, far surpassing even Russell; at times goose bump raising. From first scene to last Butler knocked it out of the ball park and then a lot more.
As the primary focus is Elvis’s relationship with Colonel Tom Parker the casting had to be spot on. And it is. Tom Hanks is phenomenal in one of his finest roles, aided by jaw-dropping make up effects. Hanks depicts him as suitably despicable and calculating for his own ends. Told by way of a narration by Parker that is used sparingly yet perfectly, similar to Milos Forman‘s “Amadeus” with Salieri telling Mozart‘s story. Ultimately this approach also stresses his manipulative, total control he had over all aspects of Elvis’s life and career.
Be that as it may, as remarkable as Hanks is the real star, as rightly he should be, is Butler who stunningly portrays and fully inhabits Elvis from the 1950s through to 1977. Not many steal scenes from Hanks, but he stole the whole movie from an actor at the top of his game. Living the role and in doing so honouring the legacy and memory of both Elvis the icon and the human being. He particularly comes into his own during the exhilarating musical set-pieces, of which he did not mime the songs but incredibly performed them himself – with Elvis’ voice used in the latter sequences. To be fair who could replicate Elvis’s incredible like no other vocals. So convincing was Butler that many, me included upon seeing the trailer for the first time, were convinced he was miming, leading to Luhrmann feeling it necessary to release test footage of him singing to prove conclusively otherwise. Throughout the early sequences I had to keep mentally pinching myself to be reminded Butler was singing and not miming.
However, Butler’s Elvis is no tribute performance but a fully realised depiction of the complex person beneath the carefully cultivated image who came alive on stage – the only place he seemed to be truly happy. Butler’s extensive research and immersing himself in everything Elvis can be felt throughout and is there on screen to marvel at.
As expected from a Luhrmann movie this is no ordinary biopic. By ratcheting everything up to the maximum he gets beneath the surface of the mythos that has grown up around Elvis to show the human side. At times mindfully using dramatic licence to metaphorically flesh out the narrative and people. Which leads to unexpected psychological depth, and sensitively depicting his demons but never needlessly dwelling on them. Making for an almost character study celebration of Elvis as only Luhrmann could envisaged.
From the first flashback sequences “Elvis” is rooted in that which formed the person and artist by showing in his early life his love of black and gospel music, and later his discovery of the likes of B.B King, Little Richard, Big Mama Thornton (who first recorded ‘Hound Dog‘), and many others – all of which inspired him and his music. Something not depicted so fully before in an Elvis biopic. In latter sequences the performances intercuts with artists who essentially helped create Elvis the icon, rightly so giving them the overdue credit they deserve.
What Luhrmann did beautifully was create a movie that radiates and is Elvis. Each and every aspect combined to empathically encapsulate not only the persona, but the real person beneath. The soul of Elvis can be felt in every single frame, realised in each minute cinematic detail.
Edited to absolute razor sharp perfection, with stunning production design and cinematography that also captures each era beautifully. With a soundtrack mixture of Elvis’s iconic songs and his inspirations alongside an inspired use of contemporary music.
“Elvis” is exactly the unique, immersive Luhrmann experience he always delivers. Balanced wonderfully as an affectionate tribute that tastefully depicts the reality. Crucially highlighting how awful Parker was and used him as a meal ticket. By the final scenes it would take a hard heart not to be moved by the inclusion of footage of Elvis in his final show and his tear-jerking rendition of ‘Unchained Melody‘.
Luhrmann brought to bare every bit of movie making skill he has honed over the years, producing some of the most distinctive movies of all-time, to create the ultimate Elvis Presley biopic. His passion and love for Elvis is in every frame and the meticulous attention to the minutest detail. Depicting the mythos, legendary icon, and in so doing the realism beneath the carefully cultivated Elvis image. An icon made complete cinematic flesh via Luhrmann’s theatrical leanings.
He has said there is a 4 hour assembly cut and it seems down the line he may well create a longer version due to him enjoying creating a series from his movie “Australia“. An ELVIS series would be more than welcomely received, but Luhrmann says that if it happens it will be many years away. Hopefully one day will we get to experience that.
The real litmus test and judges are the Presley family’s reaction and feelings, which was passed with glowing colours. His wife Priscilla, daughter Lisa Marie, and granddaughter Riley are more than happy and have given it, and most importantly Butler, their absolute seal of approval.
“Elvis” really is a movie that needs to be experienced on the big screen to fully appreciate the completely immersiveness. Made by loving fans for fans, but also for non fans too. “Elvis” is the ultimate celebration of Elvis Presley and a perfect introduction for those not familiar with him and his story.
Luhrmann’s crowning glory is a towering achievement. Cinematic perfection.
“Elvis” will go down as one of, if not the best biopic ever created.
Quite simply it was AMAZING!!!!
This review is lovingly dedicated to one the biggest Elvis fans. My Mum xxx