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It left me with a surprising amount to think about after the credits had rolled.
There are few things I love more in the wide world of cinema than when you go to see a film that you don’t have notably high expectations for, and the movie turns out to be better than you ever could have hoped for. It’s happened to me a few times in my life, but I think it most recently happened to me with Elvis.
Elvis marks director Baz Luhrmann’s first return to cinema since 2013’s vivaciously romanticized The Great Gatsby. It details the complete odyssey the life of renowned musician Elvis Presley (if the title didn’t give that away), played by Austin Butler. When he discovers a love of music and hires Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) as his manager, Elvis embraces a life of performance and showmanship. He journeys through love, fame, and tragedy as he seeks to make a name for himself and leave a lasting impact on the world.
I want to start by discussing the presentation of this movie, which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen for this kind of film. Luhrmann is no stranger to hyper-kinetic editing, and he uses that to full effect in this movie, splicing together scenes from different points in time within the same sequence. He does so in a manner that conveys a lot of information to the audience in a surprisingly seamless and coherent fashion. This, combined with the movie’s vivid, colorful cinematography and impeccably well-mixed sound design, creates a bombastic, ultra-stylized experience that gives the viewer the impression they are watching something larger-than-life. The movie’s composition is one-of-a-kind - I feel if it had been executed in any other fashion, or even if the studio had hired a different director, the movie wouldn’t have stood out to me as much.
Austin Butler’s performance as Elvis might be the best I have ever seen from him. He goes above and beyond to make the role his own, completely embodying everything about the titular character to convince the audience that they are watching Elvis Presley onscreen. Tom Hanks’ take on the sniveling, manipulative craven that is Col. Tom Parker seems to have divided the audience- some people had fun with how much he hammed it up onscreen, while others found it to be distractingly cartoonish. I personally was not bothered by it. I found the scummy nature of the character to perfectly fit the over-the-top nature of Hanks’ work, and I thought it matched perfectly with this movie’s style and aesthetic.
Going even deeper than that, this movie stands apart from other biopics by viewing the life of Elvis through the lens of a cautionary tale. Through the events of the film, we see the toll that Elvis’ lavish - and at times reckless - lifestyle takes on him, as well as the impact of putting faith in the wrong people. I found this to be a very compelling way to tell this story. The highs and lows of the life of Elvis Presley are on full display for all to see here. We, as audience members, feel the impact of each- the elation of the highs accentuates the devastation of the lows, and vice versa. None of this, however, detracts from the lasting impression the movie leaves on you when it comes to the passion that Elvis had for music. The movie clearly shows you the devotion he had for his work and the love he had for performance, which helps him feel much more well-rounded as an onscreen character.
Elvis is one of the more unique and interesting films I’ve seen this year. It’s remarkably engaging, boosted by award-worthy editing and a phenomenal lead performance, and it is emotionally impactful in all the best ways. I highly recommend this movie to anyone- as someone who didn’t know everything about Elvis, the musician, or his work, I had a great time watching it. It left me with a surprising amount to think about after the credits had rolled.
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