Austin Butler “takes care of business” in “Elvis”


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Campus Editor and movie buff, Grace Sherban, reviews the new film “Elvis.”

Grace Sherban, Campus Editor

Baz Luhrmann’s highly anticipated, newest directorial effort “Elvis” was released into theaters on June 24 and offers a look at the life of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. Luhrmann, best known for directing “Romeo+Juliet” and “The Great Gatsby,” has developed a style highly concerned with quick edits and flashy camera work which is on full display in this film. 

“Elvis” depicts the rise and fall of music legend Elvis Presley portrayed by Austin Butler. However, the story is narrated by Presley’s infamous manager Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks, and uses his emanate death in 1997 as a framing device to tell Parker’s version of events. 

With the title being “Elvis,” one might assume that the goal of the movie would be to get a more in-depth look at Elvis’s life, but it felt like an extended music video required to incorporate facts about his life. 

The attempt to create a biopic that isn’t just a straightforward account of the subject’s life was appreciated, but Elvis is already a larger-than-life figure. The diversion of Hanks’ stumbling around a Vegas casino telling Elvis’ story just made Elvis seem like he had no agency within his own movie.

Austin Butler, the man tasked with bringing this music legend to the big screen, not only met expectations but far exceeded them. From mastering Elvis’ voice to completely tearing up the dance floor with his signature moves, Butler’s performance will be talked about long after “Elvis” leaves theaters. Butler demands the audience’s attention and is able to breathe new life into this mythical figure despite the movie playing into the general perception of who Elvis was. Butler was able to perfectly encapsulate every era of Elvis from 50s heartthrob to 60s movie star to 70s staple of Vegas. 

Another aspect of Butler’s performance that was able to enhance the overall film was his own vocals being used in a large majority of the songs. Butler was not only able to look the part, but hearing him copy Elvis’s voice while performing helped elevate the movie and his own performance.

With music being at the forefront of most scenes, it was jarring at points to hear classic Elvis tunes and other popular songs from the era mixed in with modern songs such as “Vegas” by Doja Cat and “The King and I” by Eminem and CeeLo Green. The addition of these songs didn’t make sense within the story and having the genre and style of music switch so suddenly leaves a viewer wondering how this music adds to the life story of Elvis. 

A photo of the director and lead actors of “Elvis.” (Getty Images)

While Butler’s portrayal of Elvis captivated audiences, Tom Hanks’ performance can be described as utterly bewildering. His performance feels cartoonish, which one might think would feel fitting for a Baz Luhrmann film, but it is out of place when the actor opposite of Hanks gave such a grounded performance. 

The movie makes it clear that the Colonel played a large role in the eventual downfall of Elvis. Yet, cutting between Elvis’ story and the Colonel’s delusions where he insists he was not responsible was frustrating since what is shown on screen undermines the Colonel’s whole argument. 

As a viewer who was completely hypnotized by Butler’s performance, it was upsetting to watch brief flashes of musical numbers and scenes of dialogue. At certain moments throughout the film, it felt as if the elements of filmmaking (such as editing and cinematography) were trying to distract or compete with Butler’s performance. 

The main problem with “Elvis,” besides its hefty two hour and 39 minute runtime, was director Baz Luhrmann’s signature style getting in the way of telling a compelling story about a man who just happened to be the King of Rock and Roll. Luhrmann’s style was able to effectively portray Elvis’s persona of a flashy showman but never took a look at the man behind the sequined jumpsuits. 

Elvis is a complicated figure to portray candidly because his public life differed drastically from his personal life. The moments that showed him struggling with fame, addiction and romance in his private life always seemed to be a necessary interruption for Luhrmann, who appeared more interested in staging musical performances and highlighting Hanks’ camp performance. 

Despite these flaws, “Elvis” is a movie that demands the attention of the viewer thanks in large part to Austin Butler. Being able to watch Butler perform “If I Can Dream” from the ‘68 special was well worth the price of admission to the theater. Whether or not you are a fan of Elvis Presley, this movie is a good way to spend the afternoon if you have time to spare. “Elvis” is now streaming HBO Max.