Elvis Presley is iconic, legendary and one of the greatest entertainers to ever live. Yet, not everyone would agree. There have been rumors of him not being lovely to black people while appropriating gospel and blues. There are the rumors of womanizing, affairs and the prescription drug abuse that ultimately took his life on August 16, 1973. Let me tell you what this film is not. It is NOT a biopic. If you are a fan of Elvis, you will be thoroughly enchanted and entertained. If not, you may have a thing or two to say about the music icons not be represented to their fullest potential…and you would be right. However, this is not the B.B. King, Little Richard, Big Mama Thornton or Sister Rosetta Tharpe biopic. It’s the story of Elvis Presley narrated and told through the point of view Colonel Tom Parker and what his role as manager played in these rumors in the rise and demise of The King. Writer, Director Baz Luhrmann provides the answers with a film as big on spectacle an intrigue as Presley himself.
Luhrmann, through a colorful carnival-esque, haunting cinematic ride, enlightens audiences on how the pair met at a hayride performance, how Presley’s sound was strongly influenced by Black performers in revival tents and legendary icons like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Little Richard, B.B. King and how gospel brought Elvis back from a floundering career post military. This is undeniably a Baz Luhrmann production in all its glory, signature moves and subtle undercover use and flavors of mixing up tunes (Are You Lonesome Tonight) to an almost unrecognizable, haunting flair.
The exploration of growing up dirt poor in predominantly Black neighborhoods, the intimate, loving relationships with his parents (Vernon and Gladys), the infinite love and respect for Priscilla and Lisa Marie, not to mention the exploitive nature under which he became a household name is fascinating, heartbreaking and revealing on a level audiences have not yet experienced.
The production, sound, costume design, soundtrack and performances are bananas!!!! But, the performance of Austin Butler is insane! As a fan, never before have I seen a portrayal that embraces the complexity with an exuberant, contagious energy leaving audiences utterly speechless. The final moments with him aged and bloated, belting out ‘Unchained Melody’ is an image you will not soon forget.
Tom Hanks as the serpent like, carny Colonel Tom Parker doesn’t disappoint. His crafty, manipulative manner as the man who discovered and exploited this young rock star for his own personal gain is masterful to say the least.
Olivia DeJonge plays Priscilla Presley with a quiet dignity and resilience that does the real thing justice in more ways than one. Yola, Kelvin Harrison, Jr. and Alton Mason as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, B.B. King and Little Richard are equally impressive, but seen all too brief. I could’ve used a little more melanated moments myself, but Mason’s magnetic rendition of Tutti Frutti will have to suffice.
Of all the projects centered on this Elvis, this is the first and only one that does the memory, legacy and musical sensibility of this artist justice. There are too many favorite moments to note, but the one I was most surprised about was the rehearsal with The Sweet Inspirations, Jordanaires and musicians prepping for the Vegas residency at the International on the strip.
Elvis is glitz, spectacle, magnanimous performances and the beginnings of a born superstar in Austin Butler. It is a summer blockbuster necessity. Produced by Warner Brothers, Elvis hits buildings nationwide on June 24th and fans will not be disappointed.