I’ve always been wearied of biopic movies, so much so that I don’t even like giving them my time or attention because I constantly worry if what I am being sold on is a load of bull that is fantasized by creative writing to make a true-life story fell more like a flashier, Hollywood hyped up spectacle. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the one exception that minimizes the fantasy storytelling and does a better job of selling you on the real true story than most films do. “Elvis” presented itself as more than just a biopic film, but a grander, daringly different look into Elvis’s life with enough flash AND substance to avoid the pitfalls of past biopic films. While it looks and sounds like a true rock around-the-clock classic, I still have reservations about “Elvis.”
Our story follows the life, the music, and the controversies surrounding the King himself, Elvis Presley (Austin Butler). The narrator is actually Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), the controversial manager who first gave Elvis his big break as well as scheme, steal and shave profits off the top for himself while Elvis continues to rise to new heights of stardom. Over the course of the film, we see the many highs, lows, and mega-hits throughout Elvis’s career; recreating memorable moments and challenges and giving us a brief glimpse into the long and legendary life of the legendary singer who changed the world of music forever with his infamous style of rock and roll.
The idea of choosing to have someone like Elvis’s sleazy, shady manager be the one to tell his epic journey was an inspired choice and with even more inspired casting handled by Tom Hanks. He truly embodies the shady, slimeball manager persona perfectly, without feeling over the top cartoonishly villain-like. Hanks presents Parker in a way that makes it easy for anyone to get to know him, even though you don’t want to know this kind of person. Everyone knows someone shifty or sneaky like Parker in their lives and creates a fitting sense of compelling curiosity to see how this story plays out from his eyes instead of the King himself. I always found it hard to listen to someone make an Elvis impression and not expect someone to turn it into a joke or some kind of gag voice people use in cartoons. Austin Butler thankfully knows how to embody Elvis Presley, in body and in voice truly.
I’ve seen videos and clips of Elvis in his hip-swinging prime, and it’s incredibly strange seeing Butler nail the physical gyrations and facial expressions during Elvis’s singing performances (of which there are many.) There is a glittery, blinding glare kind of camerawork that really brings these numbers and moments to life. Sometimes it felt like you were actually there in the crowd, screaming and fanning yourself from the intense heat Elvis was a generation with every note and thrusting move. With a 2-hour and 30-minute running time, I was hoping we’d get a much more extensive look at Elvis’s life, considering there is so much time to work with. Sadly, “Elvis” condenses or speed rushes so much of his personal and family life that it feels like a glossed-over footnote than an accurate look into his day-to-day life.
The heart and energy Butler put into his performance were not equally dispensed throughout the rest of the film. Large life milestones are skipped over in favor of more dueling drama moments between Parker and Presley, and it takes me out of the life story I thought I was getting. Going through his heartaches and controversies is all well and good, but if you want me to invest myself into a nearly 3-hour biopic, then you better give us the whole story instead of the cliff note version just so we can get more mustache-twirling from Tom Hanks. It’s genuinely disappointing that these intimate and more personal moments are not given the same spotlight-level attention they deserve. I feel this cuts off a much-needed chunk of Elvis’s life that makes him more human than a musical legend and gives us only half the true story, which is what I hate.
Overall, the unexpected delights in “Elvis” really impressed me and proved the right actors and visual class can bring legends back from the dead and put them on stage for one more round on the silver screen. Hanks and Butler are flawless in their portrayals of their real-life inspirations, and the musical journey the film takes you on always keeps you lively and engaged. However, the long-running time weighs you down, and with so many missed personal exploration opportunities into Elvis’s personal and family life, not just his career, it makes me wish that more could have been shown rather than skimped over to make this a cut above the rest of other biopics.
We give “Elvis” 2 ½ stars out of 4 stars.
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