By Tyler Gibson
It was only a matter of time until The King himself, Elvis Presley, received the cinematic biopic treatment. Maybe the anticipation resulted from destiny since Elvis is the ideal subject for notorious maximalist Baz Luhrmann.
Elvis was a molotov cocktail flung at a repressed and strained America. As described in the film as “forbidden fruit,” the wild performer brought forth a style of raw entertainment unprecedented to his audience, unleashing and unlocking something primal in them (primarily young white women). The film is most striking when focusing on this notion which pushes the wily director’s bold aesthetic to its breaking point. To metaphorically put a satisfactory end to Presley’s cultural cache, the soundtrack interpolates many famous modern artists such as Doja Cat and Britney Spears. Bouncy split screens, propulsive reaction shots, and herky jerk camera movements are attuned to Austin Butler’s voluptuous lead performance. It must be noted Butler lacks a substantial role to play because the script is disinterested in traditional character development. There’s no interiority, and glimpses of Elvis’ insight are mere flirtations (the political correlations and overtones, such as his attachment to Black culture and the Civil Rights movement, are equally crass and naive). Most disappointingly, the romance between Priscilla and Elvis is somewhat muted and passionless due to the restless montage-driven nature of the film, rendering scenes shallow and direct. The unwavering framing device on Tom Hanks as the manager is a vague choice that never fully settles. The script neither indicts Tom Parker nor sympathizes with him despite his relationship with Elvis being the driving force and Hank’s gonzo Dutch-accented performance threatening to overshadow Butler at every turn. As an actual biography of Elvis, the film is arguably a failure. However, as a manifesto for Elvis, the performer, this film is perfect.
As mentioned, Austin Butler completely engulfs what Baz requires him to do: compellingly performing on stage. Butler makes an undeniable impression in these segments with his husky voice, flapping limbs, and inhabited showmanship. He vividly captures the essence and intoxication one must have felt at an Elvis concert. Even when the third act crashes after the preceding two hours race at a relentless speed that ignites sparks, the excitement and desire to witness what Butler showcases on stage are palpable. Austin Butler is a revelation you cannot look away from.