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Elvis | movie review

You won't be able to help falling in love with Austin Butler's Elvis.

 

Movie summary: The life of American music icon Elvis Presley, from his childhood to becoming a rock and movie star in the 1950s while maintaining a complex relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. (IMDb)


If you want a great-looking and even better sounding (it's Elvis Presley after all!) cinematic 'experience' with a phenomenal lead performance, then Elvis is the movie for you. If you want something other than a quick race through his life hitting all the points you'd expect and a satisfying conclusion for the story of one of the most famous people to have ever walked the planet, then maybe not so much.


But let's start with the best part of the movie first, which is Austin Butler's incredible display as Elvis himself. Seriously, he better be in contention for an Oscar with how perfectly he plays the role here - with how much Elvis goes through in his life, Butler has to show a range of acting you won't see in most other movies and does it all masterfully.


Whether it's the naïve, idealistic youth before hitting the big time, or the angry, bitter shell he becomes, Butler knocks it out of the park. Even when Elvis is spiralling downwards due to his heavy drug addiction, which leads to him cheating on his wife, Butler still convinces you that he does actually still love her and that he's barely aware of anything he did with other women.


Then, as the cherry and icing on top of the cake, it's eye-opening just how astonishingly good he is when playing Elvis on stage, whether singing, dancing or even just reacting to the gigantic audiences present to adore him. Some of his more rebellious actions may seem tame now, but the movie and Butler's performance completely sells you on just how outrageous his behaviour appeared to some at the time.


The next thing to praise about Elvis obviously has to be about the music, with the long list of super-hits he was responsible used to both get across how his style changed through the years as both a singer and a stage presence, but also in how it influenced the score - Can't Help Falling in Love is used as the theme for Elvis and Priscilla's relationship, to heart-breaking effect at one point close to the end.


It's still amazing just how many hits Elvis had, and how many are used in this movie without ever feeling like they're being forced in either, but it's also great to see how much black music had an influence on him and how many non-Elvis tracks are given their due - it would've been easy to cut them out, but director Baz Luhrmann does the right thing and honours the source of Elvis' greatness, as the man himself would have wanted.


As said right at the start, Elvis is a truly incredible Elvis Presley experience that will be more enough to please most audiences based on that alone. The problem is that trying to fit so much of his life in means that the movie races through his early years in an often incoherent, over-edited first hour or so that makes the movie feel like stone skipping over the surface of a river with how little time is spent on some scenes.


In the end, it felt like Elvis was relying on people knowing who Elvis Presley was - to be fair, don't most people on the planet? - and having sympathy for the real person rather than the fictional version I had been watching, which I felt was something of a disservice to Butler's efforts. Thanks to the use of that 'crutch', the requisite emotions are triggered when needed, it just felt a little too manufactured to me.


The other big issue I had was with Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker, albeit not the performance, even if it's fun to watch Hanks chew the scenery as if his ;larger than life' setting had been turned up to eleven. Instead, it was the use of Parker narrating the movie close to death which meant that the ending didn't hit quite as much as you'd hope it would.


Parker claims that some people consider him to be the bad guy when it comes to Elvis downfall and death, which is a sentiment that Elvis clearly seems to agree with, but we never get to see him get his comeuppance, which instead happens in text just before the credits. Regardless of that being the last thing we know of Parker, it means the movie itself ends with the villain of the piece effectively winning, despite the fact that he didn't.


Spoilers for Wolf of Wall Street here, but imagine if that movie had ended with Jordan Belfort's scene saying that he'd changed his mind about quitting his company after all, leaving the breakdown of his marriage, the imprisonment for his financial crimes, and his being reduced to little more than a sales guru for lines of text at the end of the film. It would've had the same detrimental effect there too of letting the story of the 'bad guy' end with him on top rather than losing out as he did too.


That said, the overly-manic opening and issues with Parker's use as framing device aren't enough to spoil Elvis, which I still thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend everyone seeing for Butler's performance and the incredible music alone, never mind the excellent supporting cast as well as Hanks, with Olivia Dejonge excellent as Elvis' true love, Priscilla, and Richard Roxburgh as his weak-willed and easily-controlled father, Vernon.


Elvis is a fantastic experience, but not a great movie, with what feels like no real through line or central theme other than a general 'this is what happened in his life', with Austin Butler truly excelling in the title role. Otherwise, the story-telling is often incoherent as it races through his early years and the odd framing device leaves the ending somewhat lacking in catharsis too.

[8/10 - Very Good]

 

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