The following review was written by Ultimate Correspondent, Tony Farinella.
Elvis Presley is, without question, one of the biggest names in music history. As a matter of fact, many think he’s the gold standard. Nearly four decades after his death, he is still worshiped and celebrated by legions of fans. However, there has never been a true Elvis biopic worth its salt. For a man with such a historic legacy, it seemed rather unusual that a true Elvis biopic with a big studio behind it had never been released. This changed in 2022 with the release of “Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann. If there ever was a director to bring the life of Elvis to the big screen, it was certainly Luhrmann. He’s known for his big productions and big budgets. There is a reason why he hasn’t directed many films. He puts everything into his work, and he’s involved in many aspects of the filmmaking process as a whole.
I remember hearing about this film back in 2020 as Tom Hanks contracted Covid-19 while filming his part as Colonel Tom Parker. When it was finally able to hit the big screen in the summer of 2022, I noticed it was getting people back in the theaters once again. Now, it has not grossed anywhere near the level of “Top Gun: Maverick,” but it’s still playing in certain theaters to this day even though it was released in June. I credit this to the power of Elvis as he always had a way of bringing people together. This is certainly the case with this big screen blockbuster.
While the film is called “Elvis,” it could have easily been called Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker, as it focuses on the relationship between the two. Colonel Tom Parker is played by Tom Hanks. If I had to go out on a limb here, I’d say they wanted to cast a big-name actor in Hanks because not many people were familiar with Austin Butler. Prior to seeing the film, I had never heard of Butler myself. While I understand the casting of Hanks and the reason behind Parker being such a pivotal character in the film, his performance is extremely cartoonish and silly. Colonel Tom Parker was a character indeed, but this performance feels like Hanks in a fat suit with a forced accent.
This film focuses on how Elvis was discovered by Colonel Tom Parker who took him under his wing as he saw something special in the young man. Elvis, being loyal to his family, especially his mother, would do anything to help them out financially, so he did whatever Colonel Tom Parker told him to do even if his mother saw right through him. Elvis’ father was a bit of a simpleton and really wasn’t looking out for his son’s best interests as he had problems of his own. Colonel Parker, on the other hand, was a carney who knew how to manipulate and con Elvis into doing anything he wanted him to do. Elvis was loyal to a fault. As a matter of fact, they had a contract where Colonel Parker would get half of Elvis’ earnings, which is unheard of in today’s entertainment industry.
Elvis was clearly influenced by African American music, and the film is wise to show that here. While many African-Americans say Elvis stole their music, others say he took from their music while adding his own touches to it. There are many opinions on the subject, but the film does give African-American artists their due and shows he was impacted and moved by their music while growing up in the South. It’s a tricky subject but the film gives African-American artists their due and acknowledges how Elvis was in awe of what they were doing at the time and how heavily inspired he was by the musical scene on Beale Street in Tupelo, Mississippi.
Elvis Presley is also seen as dangerous because of his sexuality and dance moves. It’s funny to think of this now because of what other artists are doing today and how far they push the envelope with their sexuality. You have to remember that when Elvis was around, it was during the late 1950’s and early 60’s, so audiences were not yet exposed to this type of artist. Some feared his music and dancing would promote sexuality amongst the younger crowd. Luhrmann also touches on Elvis’ film career, his relationship with Priscila Presley, and his time in the Army. Luhrmann and his fellow collaborators cover a lot of ground in 159 minutes, but the film doesn’t feel too long in the tooth as there is always something happening on screen.
Let’s start with the pros of the film: Austin Butler is now an official movie star. It would not surprise me if he is nominated and even wins an Oscar for Best Actor. The Academy loves musical biopics, and this is the type of performance which seems right up their alley. It’s definitely one of the best performances of 2022, but there are other films yet to be released in this calendar year. It wouldn’t get my Oscar vote if I had one, but I certainly think it’s a phenomenal performance. Butler looks and sounds just like Elvis.
The film also takes the time to dive into the effect the deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. had on Elvis as he wanted to make music about something instead of always playing it safe due to Colonel Tom Parker’s influence. The soundtrack is also top-notch and it’s incredibly moving at times. It’s flashy, fun, in-your-face, and a real crowd-pleaser.
Now let’s talk about the cons: Tom Hanks. What in the world is this performance? I read a comment from Scott Mendelson from Forbes who said it seemed like Hanks was trying to win an Oscar and a Razzie at the same time. That is the perfect way to describe his performance. The film also follows the usual beats of a biopic: the young kid doesn’t believe in himself, has success, hits roadblocks, and it ends on a high-note. The only difference here is the Elvis story doesn’t end on a high note as we all know.
The film also seems a little too uncomfortable with criticizing Elvis and a lot of the things he did in his life and career. He was far from perfect, but the film seems content to blame it all on Parker instead of looking at Elvis for some of the blame. When all is said and done, he’s far from innocent.
I enjoyed “Elvis,” but I didn’t love it. Luhrmann doesn’t show the ugly side of Elvis, and there was an ugly side to him. It’s not a very deep or relatable film either. The story could have been a little more meaningful and thought-provoking but, at times, it seems to fall in love with its star much too often. It’s a good movie, but it’s not a great one. I recommend you check it out, as you won’t be disappointed, but I would have liked a little more meat on the bone here.
* * * out of * * * *
4K/Blu-ray Info: “Elvis” is being released on a two-disc 4K and Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment which also comes with the digital copy of the film. It is rated PG-13 for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material, and smoking. It has a running time of 159 minutes.
Video Info: “Elvis” comes to 4K on eye-opening HDR 10+ along with Dolby Vision. It’s a stunning movie filled with life and color, and it truly took my breath away watching it in 4K. With some films, you don’t really notice the difference with a 4K release. Bu this is a film where, if you have a 4K player and TV, it is the way to go without hesitation. It came to life right before my eyes.
Audio Info: The Dolby Atmos track brings all of the great music right into your living room. This is a great disc, and they really went all out for this release. Subtitles are also included in English, Spanish and French.
Bigger Than Life: The Making of ELVIS
Rock ‘N Roll Royalty: The Music & Artists Behind ELVIS
Fit for a King; The Style of ELVIS
Viva Australia: Recreating Iconic Locations for ELVIS
“Trouble” Lyric Video
Should You Buy It?
If you are a hardcore Elvis Presley fan, and I know plenty of them in my own life, you have already made up your mind and are buying this on its release date. If you are not an Elvis fan, I still think this is a solid and well-made flick. Would I buy the film if I were a casual Elvis fan? I would because of the 4K release Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has put out along with the great special features on its making. However, I’d probably wait for the price to drop a little bit as the 4K version is going for $29.99. This film was made for 4K.
Elvis Presley fans, this is probably the best Elvis movie which will ever be made, and it makes me happy to see people I care about enjoying it. From talking to the diehard Elvis fans in my life, they are in love with this film and have seen it multiple times in theaters and started watching it right away when it debuted on HBO Max. It definitely resonated with a ton of people. I liked “Elvis” and recommend it, but I wish it had a bit more of an edge. It played it safe too often for my liking. Still, this is one of the best 4K releases of the year so far and a great use of the technology.
**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free. The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.