Elvis the movie you expect from stylized director Baz Luhrmann, which is an experience that no one else can provide — a messy, chaotic, crazy, sometimes tin-eared yet audacious and immersive kaleidoscope of sight and sound that feels like a theme park ride.
The best reason to go see the film is Austin Butler (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood) and his gloriously inspired performance. The young man simply dissolves into the role and makes you forget you’re watching an actor. The way he captures the cadence, the drawl, the presence of Elvis, and not just his jerky movements, is phenomenal, and then you remember that it’s Butler doing all his own singing as well, and the spell is near complete. He is Elvis.
It’s a performance guaranteed to win as many plaudits as awards season has to offer. Through Butler’s performance, a younger generation can understand what all the hubbub was about. The man brings the character to life but he especially brings Elvis the performer to startling life. Even if you hate Luhrmann’s other movies, and he is definitely divisive, and even if you couldn’t care less about Elvis in the year 2022, this movie is well worth watching for the sheer brilliance of Butler alone.
Elvis the movie feels like a perfect assignment for director Baz Luhrmann. His unconventional stylistic approach livens up an otherwise conventional rise-and-fall tale, broadening the appeal of Elvis for an audience that might have otherwise shrugged at a movie chronicling the man’s exploits. The subject matter is also the squarest for Luhrmann, which makes it also the safest movie of his career, which is truly saying something considering some of the imaginative highs of this movie.
There will be just as many people put off by the excessive, in-your-face style of the movie as drawn in by that Luhrmann razzle dazzle. Luhrmann can be exhausting even at his best but he’s also one of the few filmmakers that makes watching a movie such a textual experience, where sight and sound are layered in such meaningful and granular details to better immerse the viewer. The sound design’s ebb and flow is incredible, expect across the board BTL nominations for this Warner Brothers picture. Nominations for Butler as lead actor and Luhrmann for directing also guaranteed. Academy Award winner Tom Hanks will be left in the dust as the poorly portrayed Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ greedy manager and the film’s oddly-chosen narrator.
Letter Grade: B