Growing up in the city where the phrase “Elvis has left the building” was first uttered, it should go without saying that I’ve long been awfully familiar with the “King of Rock and Roll” as statues, murals, and banners around town never let me forget the connection. I have always been a fan of Elvis Presley’s music, especially everything from his “comeback” stage, and so I had no reason to not watch Baz Luhrmann’s biographical drama about the pop culture legend.
But I didn't. I kept putting off seeing it on the big screen, and though I have been able to use my HBO Max subscription to watch Elvis, starring Austin Butler, streaming for the past few months, I just let it sit in my queue with dozens of other movies and shows I haven’t made time for yet. Well, I can finally say I watched the 2023 Oscar-nominated movie, and I loved it (mostly, anyway).
Here are some thoughts I had after watching one of the best music biopics I’ve seen in years.
Austin Butler’s Version Of Elvis Presley Is Something We’re Going To Be Talking About For A Long Time
Let me tell you something, Austin Butler not only put on one of the best performances of 2022, his portrayal of Elvis Presley was one of most riveting displays of acting talent I’ve seen in years. That being said, I think we’re going to be talking about Butler’s showing in Elvis for years. There were times throughout the movie where the lines between actor and character were blurred to such a degree that it was hard to tell if I was watching a biopic or a documentary, and not just because of the stellar hair, makeup, and costumes.
Butler’s prolonged use of the “Elvis” voice has been derided the past few months, but I honestly think Butler spent so much time getting into character and losing himself to the role that the star became a part of him. With the similar life experiences he had with the “King,” it’s easy to see how this could happen.
Baz Luhrmann Took The Biographical Drama Genre In A Whole Other Direction, And I Love It
There have been countless music-based biographical dramas over the years, with great titles like Walk the Line and What’s Love Got to Do with It? quickly coming to mind. But while those two, and multiple other Oscar-nominated biopics have taken a more direct approach to the music icons they covered, Baz Luhrmann took a completely different direction and created something ambitious, unique, and magical that captured the very essence of Elvis Presley.
Much like he did with The Great Gatsby a decade ago, Luhrmann created this manic state and sense of wonder that perfectly encapsulated the feelings and attitudes of the era. Scenes like Elvis walking down Beale Street, his Las Vegas shows, and even his time at the Louisiana Hayride went above and beyond a retelling of Presley’s life and career, and instead created a movie unlike anything else.
The Louisiana Hayride Scene Was Amazing, And Not Just Because It Was Set In My Hometown
Okay, I have to talk about the Louisiana Hayride scene in Elvis and not just because it was set in my hometown. Early on in the movie, we get our first glimpse of the hysteria surrounding Elvis and the way he could turn a crowd into a frenzy with his devilish good looks, the “wiggle of his hips,” and undeniable stage presence. The various reactions he draws from the crowd is something else, ranging from frantic cries from girls overcome by his presence to homophobic comments from jealous boyfriends in the crowd, as well as his own mother being fearful for her son’s life.
Add in the narration by Tom Hanks’ Colonel Tom Parker and you have a creative and incredibly crafted scene that pulls off so much in such a short amount of time.
I Can’t Stop Thinking About What Elvis’ Career And Life Would Have Been Like Without Colonel Parker’s Influence
I have always wondered what would have come of the singer/movie star's career, and life in general, if he hadn’t been wrapped up with Colonel Tom Parker and was able to break away from his longtime manager, and now so more than ever after watching Elvis. There’s a good chance he wouldn’t have joined the Army, probably wouldn’t have started acting, and most likely wouldn’t have fallen into a state of severe drug abuse that cut his life short.
Throughout the movie, he talks about going on international tours, working with different music artists, and being free, only to have his dreams squashed by Parker and his controlling ways. But at the same time, would Elvis have had the level of success he had after working with Parker? This is an answer we’ll sadly never get.
Tom Hanks’ Accent Was A Choice
Let me start off by saying Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors of all time and someone I’ve always admired. However, his accent in Elvis was so bad it kept taking me out of the movie. While it’s not the worst accent I’ve heard in a movie, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense considering the real Colonel Tom Parker didn’t speak with what Variety called a “mysterious European-American accent.” Just watch any interviews with Parker, including a 1987 chat on ABC's Nightline where Elvis’ former manager spoke with a southern accent.
Sure, Hanks and Luhrmann made a choice to use this accent based on Parker's dubious history, but it was a choice that did more harm than good, and honestly knocks the performance down a peg or two.
I’m Pretty Sure The Real Elvis Didn’t Fire His Manager From The Stage, But That Scene Was Killer
Luhrmann and company took a lot of liberties when it came to several events in Presley's life, including one of the most powerful scenes in the entire movie. Following the film’s release in June 2022, USA Today published an article fact-checking key scenes, including the one where a fed up Elvis fires Parker during the middle of a concert at the International Hotel. In the piece, Parker’s biographer, Alanna Nash, pointed out that he did fire the manager, just not in the manner depicted on screen.
Despite not being factual, the scene was one of the best in the movie and finally saw an overworked and unappreciated Elvis stand up to the man who had controlled his life and treated him like a meal ticket for nearly two decades at that point. It was yet another great showcase of Butler’s talent.
That Final Performance Of ‘Unchained Melody’ Is Worth The Price Of A Ticket Alone
“Unchained Melody” has long been one of my favorite Presley songs, and somehow I have an even greater appreciation for it after watching the final scene in Elvis. Following his death, Parker talks about the last time he saw the legend perform and how a man who could barely walk and utter a sentence without losing his breath put on an amazing performance.
This scene is an almost shot-for-shot re-creation of “Elvis in Concert,” a CBS special that aired after his passing, which is great in itself. But it reaches new heights and brings everything full circle when scenes of his life from throughout the movie are cut with actual footage of the man himself. Simply brilliant.
Elvis is up for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, and there’s a good chance it could leave the ceremony with some major hardware. You can watch this film and other Oscar-nominated movies streaming before the big show kicks off on Sunday, March 12, 2023.
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Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop barking at the mailman, or chatting about professional wrestling to his wife. Writing gigs with school newspapers, multiple daily newspapers, and other varied job experiences led him to this point where he actually gets to write about movies, shows, wrestling, and documentaries (which is a huge win in his eyes). If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.