The grandeur of director Baz Luhrmann is on full display in his newest offering, Elvis. The film starts with nostalgic visuals and the excitement builds with anticipation as it progresses. Elvis is faithful in its direction and narration, and the vibrance and brilliance is there throughout the film. But everyone knows the tragedy that ensued in the King’s life, so the viewer needs to be prepared for a large dose of sadness.
Presley is played by Austin Butler, and he is the top-notch Elvis Presley that the world will love. Butler can also make us feel Elvis’s heartache. Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, is played by Tom Hanks. The film often feels like a heavyweight match between the two characters.
Elvis tracks Presley’s career from the start, when his dance moves cause all kinds of controversy and his relationship with Colonel Tom Parker begins. Parker helps Presley sign big contracts for big money. Presley has the moves, the personality, and the voice to make the ladies blush. But despite his positive qualities, Presley builds a mixed reputation. He is criticized for his famous leg moves, which are deemed to be sexual or crude. It is his voice that sells, however, and Parker finds a way to help Presley get his name out there more and more. Presley soon finds himself with shows in Tennessee and Las Vegas, at massive venues. Despite his success—or maybe because of it—Presley falls into a downward spiral of drug use, and his relationship with Parker falters.
Luhrmann has a method of fading colors in and out, making the colors go wild and happy when there is success and fading them to a melancholy feel when there is failure. He also creates shadows, quick transitions, and he throws in tangents to heighten the interest. His use of imagery creates a landscape that tracks Presley’s successes and failures.
The tension and the struggles of Presley will hit his fans emotionally. He had a wildly successful career but he struggled in other parts of his life, including relationships and finances. Luhrmann knows how to make his audience cry, so bring tissues. Where I felt the film was strongest, though, was when Presley pulls himself up again after he falls. He continues to perform, and to inspire. He also begins to realize that he doesn’t need Parker all the time.
Director Luhrmann is visually audacious with Elvis, and it is his brilliance beyond anything else that makes the film mesmerizing. Despite the sadness, it is still a worthwhile and wonderful experience that will have audiences jamming to Presley’s music, laughing, and crying. Three and a half stars for Elvis.