Any actor portraying Elvis Presley has big shoes to fill. This task is certainly not unique to portrayals of Presley–think Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, and so many more as of late–but is an immense undertaking at any rate. While Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis (2022) has its criticisms, the film succeeds in offering a kinetic, colorful, creative, and multifaceted portrayal of Presley’s story.
Austin Butler’s Presley is portrayed with enthusiasm and a strong command of Presley’s mannerisms and physicality. The film offers glimpses into Presley’s childhood, follows him through his musical influences and career, and depicts relationships with the individuals who shaped him–for better or worse.
While the costumes, make-up, and music are stellar, the film is stylistically characteristic of Luhrmann. Moments in the film border on the abstract, though other compilations and montages breeze the viewer through Presley’s performances in an exciting array of movement and color.
Missing from the film are depictions of Ann-Margret and more moments from Presley’s Hollywood career. Nonetheless, Priscilla Presley (played by Olivia DeJonge) receives a highly sympathetic portrayal in the film, offering support to Presley through high and low moments in his personal and professional life. Tom Hanks’s Colonel Tom Parker is not Hanks’s strongest performance, unfortunately offering a bizarre accent to the character. Nonetheless, Hanks’s portrayal of the character gathers the expected complicated but ultimately negative audience reaction to the character and his influence upon Presley.
Anyone who is at least loosely familiar with Presley knows that the ending is not going to be a happy one. Presley passed at an early age but it is the footage at the end of the film–the footage of the real Presley–that becomes highly effective and poignant. No, we won’t get the real Presley back–though Butler’s performance is certainly a fine one.
As a viewer, watching Presley’s footage from a performance near the end of his life seemed to reveal to me a broken, shell of a person who was conned and hurt over the years by himself and others; nonetheless, he still found it in himself to deliver monumental performances that suggested a fierce vocal power and magnificent stage presence to be remembered through the ages.