Elvis Presley is one of the greatest American folk heroes of all time. The King of Rock ‘n Roll is everywhere in our culture. He’s as about as ever-present as oxygen. You can find him on stamps, on collector plates, and in every other conceivable place his likeness can be branded. His music continues to bring in new generations of fans as his life continues to fascinate the American public.
Elvis also continues to find inspiration from filmmakers in the form of drama and documentaries, including Kurt Russell and John Carpenter’s acclaimed first pairing, Elvis, from 1979. The latest filmmaker to tell Elvis’ story is Aussie Baz Luhrmann with the similarly titled Elvis, nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture. Starring Austin Butler as the King, Luhrmann’s epic musical biopic features his typical grandiosity and kineticism that puts his audience into sensory overload. It’s his best film since Moulin Rouge!
The story is told through the point-of-view of Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker (a transformed Tom Hanks), who immediately sees the potential in Elvis and cuts ties with country performer Hank Snow to focus on managing Elvis’ career. “Heartbreak Hotel” blasts Elvis into superstardom and he moves his parents out of poverty and into Graceland. After causing a moral panic with hip gyrations and performing black music, Elvis enlists in the military where he meets his wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge).
After his service is up, he returns to show business where he finds himself increasingly irrelevant during the turbulent 60s. He comes back with a stirring TV special that launches him into a new phase of his career. Parker’s exploitation of Elvis also begins to take its toll on the King.
In addition to Luhrmann’s flamboyant direction, which earned him a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination for Best Director – Motion Picture, the film features great performances by Butler and Hanks. Butler, who won the Golden Globe for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama nails the voice and the moves. Hanks reminds us why he’s Tom Hanks, even if this particular role didn’t garner him an Academy Award or Golden Globe nomination. The soundtrack blends classic Elvis tunes with some modern cuts by Gary Clark, Jr., Eminem, Doja Cat, and many others. Elvis doesn’t quite follow the same formula demonstrated in films like Bohemian Rhapsody. Luhrmann’s trademark style of indefatigable filmmaking lifts the film into a category of its own, depicting the already larger-than-life Elvis Presley even larger than ever.