Austin Butler stars as Elvis

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hello film fanatics! Slick Dungeon here and I’m back to review the next of the Oscar contenders for this year. This film is about a musician you may have hear of named Elvis. There will be spoilers in this review so if that sort of thing steps on your blue suede shoes, go watch the movie, come on back and read the review. This one is available on HBO Max and Hulu at the moment.

In the past few years there have been a ton of musician biopics which show a brilliant and struggling artist get a big break through, fall into excess, and either be redeemed or end up dead at a young age. These biopics range from fairly accurate to almost complete fiction. And the formula at this point is kind of old. So, it’s easy to forget Elvis Presley really was one of the first mega famous rock musicians of all time and his influence on music simply cannot be overstated. A decent biopic for him has been overdue for decades. And this one, Elvis, almost hits the mark but just doesn’t quite get there.

Let’s start with the good here. Austin Butler plays a perfect Elvis. I never for one moment didn’t buy him as Elvis. This is an immense acting feat considering just how much Elvis already existed in the world. His face is internationally famous and has been for so long, it would have been easy to phone in a less believable portrayal here.

The subject matter of the life of Elvis is mostly portrayed correctly here although it never feels quite as outlandish and big as the real Elvis did. It also never feels as grounded as the early Elvis did when he was bringing music to teens and allowing them to cut loose for the first time.

Almost all of the performances here are top notch and this has an amazing soundtrack. I’m not just talking about the Elvis songs either. The blues, country, and early rock that influenced Elvis (and that he sometimes outright stole) is prominently portrayed here. There are a couple of jarring moments I don’t think worked where they throw hip hop songs into the middle of 1959 but it could still be argued Elvis had an influence on that music as well.

Here’s the bad. And it pains me to say this but, it’s Tom Hanks. It is certainly true Elvis had a manager who took financial advantage of him and kept him locked into unfulfilling contracts. This was Colonel Tom Parker, most often just referred to as the Colonel. He had a huge influence on promoting Elvis and helped to bring Presley to stardom in the first place. But Hanks’ portrayal of this person misses the mark. The makeup used on Hanks kind of works but not enough to keep it from being distracting. More problematic is the way Hanks portrays Parker. I think if Hanks could have dialed it back from completely unaware cartoon villain by about 50 percent, this performance might have worked. I don’t know who should have played Parker but I do know this performance was just not right given how well the rest of the film works.

The other bad part of the film still has to do with the character of the Colonel but this is not Hanks’ fault. Baz Luhrmann for unknown reasons decided to frame the entire movie not from the point of view of Elvis but from the point of view of the Colonel. It’s like Luhrmann was afraid to actually get close enough to Elvis to give us the whole story. While it does give some interesting context, it’s not the story we want to see. Especially not when Austin Butler is giving such an outstanding performance.

To me this film is frustrating because it gets close to reaching greatness, only to hamper itself from getting there. The moments where the film shines the most are when Elvis is away from the Colonel and is interacting with those whose music inspired him. There are great scenes between Elvis and B.B. King and others in the blues scene of the time. That’s the film I really wanted to see but instead we see scenes of Tom Hanks not believably lying to everyone around him. And then in the next moment everyone around Hanks believes the guy.

Normally I like a good Tom Hanks performance but this one just doesn’t work.

If you love musical biopics there are definitely worse ones out there. If you are an Elvis fan you’ll probably enjoy this. Also, if you want to see an excellent and believable portrayal of Elvis, this works. But outside of that, I can’t recommend this for everyone. It’s a bit of a mess in parts and utterly brilliant in others and it just doesn’t quite match the grandeur the King of Rock ‘n Roll deserves.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon


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