The true story of rock and roll legend Elvis Presley,
as told by his duplicitous manager Colonel Tom Parker.
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Written by Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce,
Starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge,
Richard Roxburgh, Helen Thomson, Kelvin Harrison Jr.,
David Wenham, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Luke Bracey
It's not easy tackling the life of such a divisive, iconic, and culturally significant figure as Elvis Presley. The King is more myth than man these days, and Baz Luhrmann leaned into that big time to create a sort of Shakespearean opera about not Elvis, but the man who discovered Elvis and took advantage of him for years: Colonel Tom Parker, an unethical gambling addict who manipulated and used Elvis for decades. It's an interesting direction to take, and one that maintains Elvis's mythological status in today's culture. Luhrmann's biopic of the King is a wildly entertaining movie that takes some liberties with the facts, but doesn't skimp on the heart.
Austin Butler is absolutely phenomenal as Elvis Presley. It's one of the most transformative performances I've ever seen in a biopic, especially when you take into account that Butler is actually singing the whole time. Wow. Alongside him, Tom Hanks excels as Parker, playing up the man's Barnum-esque sideshow qualities and showing how he treated Elvis as a meal ticket and never as a human being, likely resulting in his death at only forty-two. But that's debatable. What isn't is the pageantry and overall dedication of showcasing the larger-than-life excess that was Elvis Presley.
Elvis had all the makings of a problematic, by-the-numbers biopic until it ended up in the hands of Baz Luhrmann, who may not be everyone's cup of tea, but is definitely a director with his own distinct flavor. I think he did fantastic with this film, and he had Austin Butler and Tom Hanks to translate his vision. Overall, I thought it was a great movie, but I'm also a lifelong Elvis fan. So, maybe I'm biased, but still.