Tackling the role of Elvis Presley is a daunting challenge. There are many people who have interest in exploring his work through film, books and more.
Many actors have played the King in many different television productions. Don Johnson in “Elvis and the Beauty Queen,” Michael Shannon in 2016’s “Elvis and Nixon”, and David Keith in the 1988 effort, “Heartbreak Hotel,” just to name a few. The most acclaimed performance (and deservedly so) was delivered by Kurt Russell in “Elvis,” the 1979 TV movie directed by John Carpenter.
Now, Austin Butler, a 30-year-old actor best known for his role as Tex Watson in “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”, has given us his take on the famed performer. The film even goes up to, if not surpasses, the cinematic vision of Oscar-winning co-star Tom Hanks and the stunning visual style.
The film begins with a big visual splash, as Presley’s famous “Taking Care of Business” logo mixes into the Warner Bros. shield.
The singer then encounters his aging former manager, Colonel Tom Parker (a very heavily made-up Tom Hanks), now near-death and eager to set the record straight on whether he was a manipulative charlatan or someone who had Presley’s best interests at heart.
The film by Luhrmann, frequent collaborator Craig Pearce and Sam Bromell moves along at a fast pace, featuring the narration of the colonel. There are also many characters as the movie attempts to touch on more major events in the singer’s life all in two hours and 39 minutes.
We meet Vernon and Gladys, who were played by Richard Foxburgh and Helen Thompson. The two actors replaced Rufus Sewell and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who dropped out because production shut down for six months early on in the COVID-19 storyline.
We learn about Elvis Presley’s childhood, his early musical influences that come from local Black performers, and we witness his first concert performance where the nervous singer unleashes his physical presence on an unsuspecting audience that is quickly seduced.
Edward Hanks, the main character in this movie, is an equal character. In a scene where he does a presentation, the colonel demonstrates his skills as a promoter to the audience and to potential clients – first in a hall of mirrors and then on a Ferris wheel.
This movie is full of visually-appealing scenes, like when we see Luhrmann directing a carnival, or he’s having an important meeting at the Hollywood sign, or he’s conducting a rehearsal for Elvis Presley’s Vegas residency. It’s all so very visual and something to behold.
The recreation footage in those famous shows, as well as the acclaimed 1968 TV special, is shot with such accuracy at times I was wondering if I was watching live news footage from that time frame.
Elvis actor, Butler, worked with a movement coach to duplicate Presley’s on-stage mannerisms and other moves. He captures Presley’s presence so perfectly that it’s almost scary. Butler can be both confident and vulnerable at the same time. He also does some of the actual singing of the early Elvis songs, with Presley’s voice.
The story moves quickly and at times seems frenetic. It’s a challenge to depict such an amazing life and career in a little over two-and-half hours, so a lot of events are just touched on or passed over.
The main character in the movie is Priscilla Presley (played well by Olivia DeJonge of “The Visit”), but she does not figure into the movie for the most part.
“Elvis” presents the audience with a fun and exciting look at Elvis’ life through different eras. It also gives a closer examination of the manager who manipulated Elvis for so many years.
The movie also includes some truly impressive concert scenes.”Elvis” is one movie that delivers on all levels.