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Film Review: “Elvis” Is a Fast-Paced Adventure Celebrating the King of Rock and Roll

Written by: Adam Vaughn | June 23rd, 2022

Film poster: “Elvis”

Elvis (Baz Luhrmann, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.

Who doesn’t know the King of Rock and Roll? Baz Lurhmann (The Great Gatsby) brings the iconic legend of Elvis Presley to the screen, with tremendous vision and detail. Set against the backdrop of a 1950-‘60s changing world, Elvis moves at the speed of sound to deliver a roaring epic about a young, poor boy who achieves the highest form of musical success and the fast-paced journey it takes him on. While Elvis may seem a little too hurried overall, there is no doubt that Luhrmann delivers with his unique, expressionistic style, tackling the entirety of Elvis Presley’s story to a T (make that a P). The result is a widely entertaining and effective work of cinema that gives the King true recognition and power decades after his passing.

Luhrmann has no trouble starting from the very beginning, with young Elvis Presley (Austin Butler, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood) wandering the slums of Memphis, Tennessee, the only white boy in an all-Black community. The first third of the movie moves rapidly but concisely through Presley’s childhood and his first big break as lead singer for the Shake Rags. Butler’s depiction of Presley is spot on, a near mirror-image of the real deal, and his emotional and physical cues in every scene are a key component to making Elvis what it is. We also discover a lot of little-known information about Elvis’s life through Luhrmann’s focus on Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, News of the World), the seemingly hidden antagonist in this historical fiction. Butler and Hanks’ dynamic in the film meshes perfectly, giving the film tremendous momentum, more so than I’d imagine a film that solely pursued Presley’s perspective might have had.

Austin Butler in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama ELVIS, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Visually, Elvis is absolutely glorious. Not only will moviegoers be enthralled by the film’s images, but cinephiles of all kinds will appreciate the vision. as well. Luhrmann enjoys, as always, splashing pop culture and modern musicians into his work; here, we have songs featured in the score from artists like Doja Cat, Swae Lee, and Diplo. In this film in particular, the pop/hip hop add-ons feel a bit out of place sometimes, even if their overall use is effective.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of the film really does feel like someone accidentally hit fast forward on the VCR and everything moves so fast that at first viewing it becomes extremely difficult to appreciate and take in several powerful moments. This of course makes Luhrmann’s film worthy of several more viewings, but for a single cinematic experience, it has the effect of getting on a roller coaster and not quite being ready for the ride’s fury. Luhrmann seems to insist on this rapid movement, however, in order to cover a vast amount of plot points, and I’m not entirely sure I would have been more satisfied had the film cut down to focus on just a few. Seemingly, the pace does the film justice, especially as Elvis’ career is well in motion (which is when it makes the most sense to move at lightning speed). Needless to say, it is extremely difficult to take in all the information the first time around.

l-r: Austin Butler and Tom Hanks in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama ELVIS, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

This frenetic pace, however, abates as soon as Elvis starts to experience his physical health problems and financial issues. The film then switches gears, as if to reflect on what being a superstar has cost Elvis. Things start to become deep, tragedy starts to befall Elvis, and Luhrmann makes sure to take these crucial moments in. All the while, Elvis is still compelled to perform up until his death, and Elvis shows this by fighting itself, battling between grand musical numbers and small, intimate, heartbreaking moments. For those of us who dive into the experience with high expectations, there will surely be things to nit-pick and analyze, but the good outweighs the bad and the King of Rock and Roll has never looked better on the big screen.

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Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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