by Ray Schillaci
The Movie Guys

Warner Brothers and Baz Luhrmann put a polish on an iconic legend with a major star turn by Austin Butler in Elvis. Even though it is Tom Hanks as Elvis’s notorious manager, Colonel Tom Parker, telling his story, the real star remains the one and only and there is little room for any other characters even at a nearly three-hour running time. That’s not exactly a bad thing since Butler channels Elvis Presley like no other. The man can very much look like him, moves, sounds and sings like him, bringing all his energy back to life. Sure, Luhrmann runs wild with his signature excesses, but the movie proves to be not only high-octane excitement, but it also captures the melancholy sadness of a man that had family, friends, and businesspeople take full advantage of him except for his devoted wife, Priscilla.

Luhrmann’s story opens with Colonel Tom Parker alone in a hospital on his deathbed reminiscing about his first encounter with Elvis. The Colonel’s tale is not a linear one and takes a little getting used to. He tends to jump back and forth throughout parts of Elvis’s life, from the first time he heard Elvis and thought he was black, rushing out to see where that voice came from, to committing the greatest grift sinking his teeth and tentacles into him and making sure no one would ever stand in his way. Not even his star client, Elvis.

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Of course, the Colonel’s version is not as tainted, declaring that Elvis would not be who he became if it was not for the huckster. That could easily be debated since Elvis already had representation before he met Parker and had a song on the radio that caught the attention of the younger set, especially girls. When Parker does see Elvis on a small stage, it’s striking. The young man is donned in a pink outfit, his hair in an almost rebel cut at the time and he appears hesitant, almost fearful until he belts out a song and grooves to the music setting the stage and the audience on fire. One could not ask for a better introduction to who was to become the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.

Later, we get a glimpse of Elvis’s younger life growing up with poverty-stricken parents, his devotion to his mother and his discovery and love for African-American music. He’s ridiculed for the latter, but what would Elvis be without his influences. It was not all Parker’s doing that made the man a legend. It was his constant association and influence of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thorton, Little Richard, B.B. King and others who he actually lifted songs from that made him so unique. A white boy with the style of an African-American.

Parker sees dollar signs all over the young Elvis and weasels his way into being his manager and eventually his sole client. To Parker’s credit, he’s not only able to book Elvis on a string of hugely successful gigs, he also gets him on TV. Eventually, Elvis’s gyrating moves, his rocketing to fame and the hold he has on his audience leave conservative parents in an uproar. Racist politicians see an angle to get votes by attacking Elvis’s association with black musicians.

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After an attack on stage, Elvis is threatened with jail time. But, he is given the option to join the Army instead. While stationed in Germany, he discovers that his mother has died of alcoholism. This leaves Elvis lost until he meets Priscilla. He falls head over heels for her and when he’s discharged, he goes back on a huge tour and Parker sets him up to star in several films. All the while, Parker gains more and more control over the entertainer’s life. Elvis was enthusiastic to get into the movies, but he did not want to sing. He wanted to act and be taken seriously. But, Parker and the studios found him far more bankable as a singing commodity.

There are many revelations for the casual Elvis admirer. His and Parker’s deal with Las Vegas, the shameful enablers, Priscilla’s feelings about his affairs and drugs, and the possible union of Streisand and Elvis in a movie together. As much as Baz Luhrmann touches upon the rags to riches story, dalliances with drugs and the eventual downfall of a star, the film never feels like a typical music biopic. All the energy that Elvis would bring on stage is magically captured by Luhrmann and the film’s leading star, Austin Butler. That’s what makes Elvis a must-see on the big screen.

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Austin Butler is breathtaking. He commands the screen with his Elvis. Although a melancholy tale, Elvis the movie is as exciting as watching those aerial dog fights in Top Gun: Maverick. If we could just hold back the hate we feel for the narrator of this story. Colonel Parker’s story is mind-boggling and elusive as hell. We barely get to know anything of the man other than he is a carny through and through, trumpeting himself as the next P.T. Barnum. But, I can’t even imagine P.T. Barnum being as downright scummy and evil as Parker was.

Tom Hanks in a fat suit and prosthetic makeup is barely recognizable except for his distinct voice. He almost has you believe that he created Elvis and that everyone else had no idea how to handle the man, the myth, the legend. In fact, Hanks’ Parker is so despicable that it’s hard at times to enjoy the movie because his decision making and overbearing nature are practically unbearable and make Elvis’s sad life even worse. We feel like we’re on a rollercoaster with all the highs and lows. But, when it’s all said and done, it is Butler’s performance as Elvis that captures our heart and makes it skip a beat as well, which makes the whole experience well worth it.

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Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Release Date: June 24, 2022
Run Time: 159 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Country: United States/Australia
Distributor: Warner Brothers

Austin Butler, dressed in black leather and holding a guitar, on Baz Luhrmann's Elvis movie poster

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