‘Elvis’ Review: Definitely a rhinestone, but not quite a diamond

by Barbara R. Abercrombie
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If you go to the new movie Elvis and look for an extravaganza of the King’s music with the excess of a Baz Luhrmann epic, you probably get everything you wanted. Just go in with the knowledge that Elvis Presley’s whirlwind life was an overwhelming blur, and, for better or worse, so is the movie. Elvis is a kaleidoscopic fever dream of Presley’s early years, rise to fame, infamy, and eventual downfall. Through the eyes of his manipulative manager Colonel Tom Parker (played by Tom Hanks), we look at the highs, hard lows, and undeniably iconic moments of the King of Rock’n’roll as a feast for the senses.

There’s no denying that Elvis is a compelling watch, with all the glitz and glamor you’d expect from a Presley biopic, but it leans more towards an ode to Luhrmann’s cinematic style than an ode to the King.


Luhrmann’s particular taste for visual excess and filmmaking extravagance- known for 2013’s The Great Gatsby and 2001’s Moulin Rouge- dominates some of Elvis’s life’s poignant and painful moments. But if you can get past the giddiness and distraction of Luhrmann’s more outlandish choices, there is much to love about the film.

The shining star-to-be Austin Butler gives a tour de force performance as Elvis Presley, mixing his vocals with the King’s to create a layered transition from the 1950s to Elvis’ final years. Given the number of Elvis impersonators worldwide, Butler’s ability to take on the role without falling into stereotypes is admirable – as is his dedication to capturing Presley’s iconic moves and The Voice.

It is said to have influenced the actor’s daily speech because of his choice to go into filming for the entire two years, but let’s face it: if that’s the worst thing that his method of acting brings out in him, so it’s.

The supporting cast produced mixed results, with Australian Olivia DeJonge standing out as an incredibly underrated and underused Priscilla Presley. Luhrmann regulars David Wenham and Richard Roxburgh are solid as always, but the surprise for me was Tom Hanks’ less-than-consistent portrayal of Colonel Tom Parker.

While the prosthetics do most of the heavy lifting, an inconsistent accent and caricatural presence make it hard to suspend our disbelief that we’re looking at anyone other than Tom Hanks with a fake nose. As a longtime Hanks fan, it’s hard to admit he’s easily the weakest link in the ensemble.

Ultimately, my biggest criticism is that the inflated run time made the pace messy, with the last 40 minutes feeling twice as long as the first. Sometimes it feels like an excuse to show off all the iconic Elvis costumes and songs, which is understandable – it’s largely why the audience will show up – but so much of Elvis’ story has been missed in favor of a more colorful collage.

But if you can’t help falling in love with all that Elvis is, there is no shortage of memorable moments, outfits, smoldering songs, and songs. Rumor has it that Priscilla Presley even congratulated Luhrmann and Butler and said the film moved her to tears — what you can’t deny is a tremendous endorsement.

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