Elvis Presley rises to fame in the 1950s while maintaining a complex relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

Editing: Matt Villa, Jonathan Redmond
Elliott Wheeler

Cast: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge, Luke Bracey, Natasha Bassett, David Wenham, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Samuel, Kodi Smit-McPhee

Directors: Baz Luhrmann
Screenplay: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner
Story: Baz Luhrmann, Jeremy Doner
Cinematography: Mandy Walker

With the recent success of films like musician biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody, Aretha and Rocketman, a film about Elvis Presley makes a lot of sense. Having Baz Lurhmann, the director of Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby, involved seems like a great fit. After making headlines in production due to Covid, Elvis has finally hit the big screen but is it a production worthy of the iconic showman?

The film follows the whole career of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), from his start recording at Sun Records, his early days in the music industry, getting drafted in the army, meeting and marrying Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge), doing movies in Hollywood, the making of his 1968 comeback special, his time performing in Las Vegas through to his eventual passing at the age of 42. The film is narrated and told through the lens of Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) who views Elvis as his great discovery and will do anything to keep him under his control.

Elvis starts at a hectic pace, jumping from time period to time period with enough text telling you where and when Elvis is to rival a Star Wars opening crawl. The film keeps up the incredible pace for at least an hour and a half before slowing right down, feeling very inconsistent. While it was an enjoyable experience, I was exhausted by the end with the film definitely feeling its 159-minute runtime.

It falls into the trap of trying to hit so many different key moments in Elvis’ life that the film doesn’t really have any meaning or point of its own. With so many different moments to cover, smaller character-defining moments take a back seat. The film doesn’t have a clear message of who Elvis was. Was he a naive man who trusted the wrong person? A man who was only successful due to being able to bring predominantly African-American music and dance to the white masses? A tragic figure who brought about his own ruin? A superhero with gifts from god? The film hints at all these possibilities but doesn’t commit to any, leaving you feeling like you don’t know Elvis any better after than you did before.

With that said, the casting of Austin Butler is the best thing to come out of this film. He perfectly portrays the King of Rock and Roll, bringing an incredible raw energy and a pitch-perfect voice to the role that is mesmerising to watch and listen to, elevating each moment he is on screen. Dripping with star power, he sings, dances and acts his way to the best portrayal of Elvis Presley to date.

Tom Hanks, meanwhile, proves that putting on a bunch of prosthetics, a fat suit and a weird accent doesn’t automatically mean success. In one of his more villainous performances, Hanks pushes up against the edge of being absurd and cartoony, often going over it. The only positive to having Colonel Tom Parker as the narrator is it makes the jumping around time easier to follow.

The rest of the cast are great but are sidelined due to the relentless pace of the film and the dual focus on Elvis and Colonel Tom. Priscilla is meant to be the love of Elvis’ life yet we only get a handful of scenes of them together. While Olivia DeJonge utilises every moment she gets, her absence just enhances the impersonal feeling this movie emanates.

The musical performances are some of the film’s best moments, with Baz Luhrmann’s flashy style working in these moments, enhanced by the stellar production design and costumes. The performances of “Suspicious Minds”, “Trouble” and “Unchained Melody” in particular stood out to me There is an odd choice to include contemporary music and musicians throughout the film which I found distracting and took me out of the experience but maybe to others’ liking.

While Austin Butler’s great performance, Baz Luhrmann’s style and the wonderful musical performances may be enough for some, many will find themselves wishing for more under this film’s shallow surface. Trying to encapsulate the life of such an iconic figure within one film was also going to be a struggle, but the approach taken here doesn’t do justice to Butler’s work or to the King himself.

Ashley Hobley attended an advance screening of Elvis thanks to Warner Bros. Australia and Reading Cinemas.