Elvis is the fictional narration of Elvis’ manager Colonel Parker. Austin Butler plays Elvis and Tom Hanks plays Colonel Parker. Baz Luhrmann returned to the director chair after nine years to direct easily one of the most difficult projects to execute for a film project when it comes to a biopic.
Why do I call the project difficult? Because I opine that such iconic figures from any walk of life who had a lot of events in their lives need broad detailing and that is possible only in a limited series or a television drama divided into seasons. Due to very limited screen time, no film can come up with a story that has too much to tell in one go. And this is the exact reason why Elvis for me fails to impress me as some quality bio-drama.
Let me highlight a few points that disturb the edge.
1. A Road Runner Screenplay
From the start, this film is about competing in a 100m sprint race. Result? No development of any particular chronicle due to lack of breathing. The screenplay suffocates between Elvis’ childhood and fame.
2. Performances, Performances, and Performances
One after the other, Elvis performs and performs. Baz Luhrmann gives less concern to some sensitive contents that needed more intense dramatizing. Elvis’ relationship with his mother alone takes more than half a film as her character was that important. But due to limited time, Baz restricted most of the important things and focused on Elvis-Colonel chemistry. His army life, passion for karate, and two other relations with Linda Thompson and Ginger Alden are fully ignored.
3. Perplexed Aesthetics
Elvis is a confused script where the derivation and enthusiasm of the audience override. First, the film begins with the Colonel being the narrator and clearing the air to the fourth wall of why is he not to be blamed for Elvis’ demise. But in the second half, Colonel is visibly at fault with no audible commentary to reason any further. Second, Elvis is dramatized in a way that he was innocent of Colonel’s deception. So the motive of narration and the principle method of addressing the whole film in a particular way fails again.
4. Historical Inaccuracies
Too much liberty has been taken from the historical account. Neither Colonel met Elvis in the carnival nor convinced him at some mirror maze. The colonel was not even in the show where the female spectators couldn’t hold themselves watching him perform for the first time. The meeting at the Hollywood sign never happened. His famous number ‘That’s All Right’ is not depicted accurately. Elvis deceives the audience by trying to frame the screenplay as the true story of the legend.
Elvis doesn’t entirely suffer from lies and the points I have raised above. There are plusses that deserve to be mentioned and praised.
At the start, the young Elvis goes to the gospel church and reinvents himself. The entire sequence establishes his case where his passion for different music genres and the dance moves came from.
Then the first live performance was directed really well. Even if the sequence was not inspired by any true incident, that shot was necessary liberty to describe the first shockwaves of listening and watching to Elvis. Colonel’s description of Elvis from that scene as ‘A Taste of Forbidden Fruit’ is the most perfect one-liner I can listen to about a music legend used in the film.
Tom Hanks as Colonel Parker will eat the sympathetic Elvis loyalists as the cruelty he imposed on his troubling life is painful to cause heartbreak, especially when Elvis collapses and Colonel orders to make him ready for the show. Tom Hanks displays a performance that successfully sparks hatred and annoyance. It was necessary and the legendary actor nails that.
And the biggest delight and the most positive angle of the film is Austin Butler’s performance as Elvis. Thank God Harry Styles was not finalized. I cannot imagine any actor giving his utmost effort to physically present Elvis out from the role on par or better than Austin Butler. This is an Oscar-worthy performance. This guy actually sang those tracks in the film, no singer playbacked him. The dance moves and some of Elvis’ memorable performances are so magnificently and accurately portrayed. The emotional fluctuations and breakdowns are so well acted throughout the film. Had Baz committed a mistake in choosing his Elvis, the film would have met the disaster. A huge burden of the film and Elvis’ legacy are well carried.
Elvis rejects being an authentic biographer and chooses to captivate and entertain the young audience about how Elvis and his music defined the era. Elvis focused on what took the king to become easily the greatest music entertainer until the arrival of Michael Jackson. The film is depicted from the colonel’s angle and it would have been so meaningful if the film was depicted from Elvis’ angle.