Director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby) returns to the big screen for the first time in nine years with Elvis. Like most of Luhrmann's work, it's a mixed bag.
The film follows Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) on his rise to meteoric fame making music that combined aspects of country & western music with R&B elements. Presley was viewed as dangerous by the establishment for both his physical gyrations during his performances and the fact that he introduced a significant number of white people to Black music with his covers of songs like "Hound Dog."
Biopics can often be solemn to the point of tediousness, so Luhrmann's visual pizzazz brings a refreshing energy to the genre. The film also does a fair job of addressing modern controversy about Presley's racial legacy. It acknowledges that Presley benefitted immensely from being a white person performing that music in that era, but it also points out he grew up poor in rural Mississippi, where he was frequently exposed to R&B and gospel as a youth, so it was perfectly natural that he would be drawn to that music and want to perform it.
However, the film's first half is its better half. It's inevitable that the film would take a darker tone in its second half because the conclusion of Elvis' life was a sad one. He became addicted to drugs and was financially fleeced by his manager, "Colonel" Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). He would die at the age of 42. But the film's pacing during these last years is choppy and it lacks the energy of the movie's first half.
Butler (film buffs might remember him as Tex Watson in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) is excellent as Presley. But unfortunately, Hanks' performance as Parker is one of the worst in Hanks' career. Hanks' over-the-top Dutch accent (Parker was an immigrant) is consistently distracting. One can't be sure whether it was Hanks' idea or Luhrmann's, but it was an odd choice. The puzzling thing about the decision is video interviews of Parker are available online. He did not speak in anything resembling the accent Hanks uses. The miscalculation is exacerbated by the script's choice to have Parker narrate the film.
Luhrmann fans and Presley enthusiasts will likely find enough here to enjoy, but others might get restless during the film's 2 hour, 40 minute running time.