By: Amanda Guarragi
Elvis Presley has always been present in my life since I was a baby. My father idolized him and played his music all the time. Without even realizing it, those songs and his movies were engrained into my brain. And now, whenever a song of his comes on, the lyrics just flow out of me. He has made such an impact with his music, movies, and performances because everything has just been passed down to the next generation. He’s not the King of Rock and Roll, he’s just a King in the industry because his fans adored him, and he did in return. Of course, Presley did credit Black artists, whom he looked up to when he was a kid, and owed his love of music to them. Director Baz Luhrmann showed all of his ups and downs, but most importantly, who he was as a person.
Elvis highlights the two decades that Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) managed him. The film is narrated by Parker and it is truly the only way they could have done it. The only one close enough to Presley was Parker, and we get to see that relationship. Presley was this wholesome American boy who suffered from stage fright before walking out on that stage. Parker knew he had it in him, and once he saw him on that stage, he knew exactly what he needed to do to rise to fame. If you know Luhrmann, his style is pretty distinct. Viscerally, there’s so much flashy camerawork within the first fifteen minutes of this movie. And Luhrmann set the tone of how extravagant Parker made Presley. There is no one else who could have made this biopic because of the amount of excess and flare he brought to it, to tell the King’s story.
This is possibly one of Luhrmann’s most polished and tame films that he has made. His signature style was all over this, but somehow this is his most grounded film. The one reason this particular biopic stands out above the rest is the performance from Austin Butler as Elvis Presley. Some actors completely embody the artist they’re playing, but this is just a different case entirely. Butler became him and adopted his physicality, his vocal twang, his little idiosyncrasies, and had the star quality only Presley had. It is an incredible experience to watch Butler perform such iconic songs while sounding exactly like him. He studied Presley and you could see it all over. Even when they had to age him, it was a perfect performance from Butler.
Elvis isn’t a perfect movie, but it was a beautiful tribute to a man who was caught in a trap and he couldn’t walk out. Luhrmann made sure to show that he was being suffocated by the visuals onscreen through the strings being pulled by Colonel Tom Parker. There were some great editing choices and split screens that worked because we got to see Presley’s growth as a performer and as a person. The important thing to take from this movie is that he adored his fans and just wanted to get out there day in and day out for them. In a way, Colonel Tom Parker set everything during his time in the industry to create longevity for him afterwards. The Parker/Presley marketing machine is, and always will be, the blueprint for marketing purposes. It’s more of a celebration of his life for the majority of the film, but Luhrmann did show the darkness he carried with him as well.