You could say any number of things about Elvis Presley, but none of them would do justice to his fame, impact and legacy. Coming from humble beginnings, Presley would eventually grow up to become one of the most influential musicians in history. He sold out multiple stages and was one of history’s first true rock stars.
Born Elvis Aaron Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi, Presley grew up with a somewhat unstable home life. His father frequently changed jobs, and Presley’s teachers described him as average.
Despite this, Presley was encouraged to enter singing competitions starting in the first grade and eventually worked his way up to being discovered, signing an exclusive record deal and playing sold-out shows until his untimely death.
There have been many documentaries and movies about the life of the long-proclaimed king of rock and roll, but none quite as flashy as 2022’s “Elvis,” starring Austin Butler as Presley and Tom Hanks as Presley’s abusive manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, “Elvis” was carefully thought out and planned to detail the origins and extreme highs and lows of Presley’s life.
Nobody seems to shine in this movie quite like Butler. Best known before now for his roles in teen TV, he completely transformed himself for the movie. Butler perfectly captured the trance that Presley had the audience in and successfully portrayed the wicked charisma he possessed that garnered him so many fans. Luhrmann's fast-paced style of lights and cacophony of sounds allowed Butler to shine just as Presley did: in front of an audience.
Despite Hanks’ reputation as the good guy in most movies, he perfectly assumes the role of the villain given to him in "Elvis" — the movie paints Presley as the victim of an intelligent, drawn-out scam to pay off Parker’s heavy gambling debts. The versatility of Hanks’ acting in this movie should not be underestimated as he acts like a caring father during one scene and a bloodsucking mosquito the very next.
Employing a third-person narrator often teeters the fine line between showing and telling, but "Elvis" manages to strike a good balance between the two. The movie starts out toward the end of Presley’s life, as Parker recounts how he met the future cultural icon and the way he “made Elvis Presley.”
Parker tells the audience that Presley died because he was too loved and too wanted and eventually became addicted to that feeling, even if audiences know better. Outside of this narrative framing, "Elvis" otherwise follows a typical biopic format while adding more details to an already extensive film, with a run time of approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes.
While the music, production and acting shine in “Elvis,” the story fails to mention the wrongdoings of Presley. Priscilla Presley, his only wife, met him when she was only 14. While they didn't marry until she was of legal age, it's something that was not even discussed in the movie.
In addition to this, Presley spent most of his time around a group of people the public dubbed the Memphis Mafia, who was known for contributing to Presley’s rapidly declining health. The group was described as parasitic and enabling, and this was barely mentioned in the movie. While Parker was absolutely a villain, he was not the sole cause of Presley’s downfall, and it's here where the movie tends to stumble a bit.
Luhrmann’s “Elvis” appears to want to enshrine Presley as a martyr for change and a reminder of the dangers of what can happen if fame infects you and those around you. The sum of “Elvis” is far greater than its parts, and it's absolutely worth a watch if you are interested in pop culture, media or music.
The veneer of glitz and glam falters in a few areas but makes for a wonderful, heartfelt story. The King is given a new life in “Elvis” and a new audience to appreciate the cultural impact he had on music.