Where I Watched It: HBo MAX
Audio Description Provided By: Deluxe
Narrated By: Jedidiah Barton
So, as a blind film critic, I’m now expected to enjoy a Baz Luhrmann film on its own merits. I can imagine telling him, or him reading a review from a blind film critic. i feel like he would be absolutely livid that I would have the audacity to comment on his production, knowing what I know about Baz and his work.
Here’s the deal. I never saw Australia. The Great Gatsby is my favorite film of his. i didn’t like Moulin Rouge until the second viewing, and despite having seen Romeo + Juliet twice, I still hate that film. That being said, I am acutely aware of what a film directed by him is supposed to look like, and I can only imagine all the color, the flashy cuts, the costumes, and his usual tricks that he brought to Elvis. Despite this being a July release, I actually consider this film very much in the conversation for Costume Design, production Design, and Hair and makeup. possibly Sound, Editing, and Cinematography. I don’t know if Austin Butler can sustain, but he could squeak in. I think his best shot is a Golden Globe nomination.
See, the thing about Baz, and recommending Elvis, is that what we get is a somewhat frenetic at times biopicc about a singer who has already had people portray him on screen. Presumably, there shouldn’t be anything left to tell, but Baz takes a look at Elvis through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, the Colonel, played by Tom Hanks in what I can only assume is an increasingly baffling performance for the sighted viewers.
Elvis focuses on the home life, and how this young artist grew up poor, and lived in slums. He actually grew up in a black neighborhood in Tupelo, an excuse for his style being basically appropriation. The argument here is that Elvis was never out to silence black artists, but rather to highlight the music that he grew up with, and the soul that influenced him. It’s one of those give him the benefit of the doubt angles. Like, he didn’t steal Hound Dog, he just wanted to bring it to the masses.
Honestly, this phenomenon is covered quite prominently in the film Dreamgirls, dealing with the fact that black music was called race records, and trying to get white audiences to listen often required an artist to, for lack of a better word, “whiten” their sound. Too many times, songs were just taken from black artists, and re-recorded by white artists, losing the original intent and soul. What we are left with after Elvis is an idea that Elvis Presley was trying to change the concept of what music could be, so that the black artists he grew up on could be on the same radio as him. I know it’s complicated, and I’m not saying it’s the best representation, but that’s the vibe Baz is putting out.
And remember, this film is directed by an Australian director, and while I’m sure Elvis transcended overseas, he’s very much an American icon. I don’t think Baz was attracted to this project for nefarious reasons. he just thought there was a story to tell, and since he loves to incorporate flashy costumes and music, who better to make a movie about than Elvis? Seriously, based on the box office of this, his next film might just be a Madonna biopic. Some things just feel quintessentially Baz, and even though I couldn’t seee the flash, i felt his touch.
One thing that very much did not work is Tom Hanks. That’s a tough line to say out loud, but while Hanks might have really been trying to nail this Colonel, his performance never lands, and never becomes more than just a Saturday Night live impression. Too over the top to be taken seriously. And since the entire film is from his perspective, almost like this Elvis film was influenced by Maleficent or something, he bogs down the story a lot. It might be a way of saying that the story isn’t all true, because it’s being told by a pathological liar, but where’s the actual fun in that? There’s a reason biopics don’t go that route.
Truly, aside from his attempt to spiritually recreate his role from The Ladykillers, this might be the worst performance of Hanks’s career. It’s sad that he’s such a massive legend, but he’s so upstaged by Austin Butler’s phenomenal performance as Elvis, and i couldn’t have told you a single thing Butler had done prior to this off the top of my head. Butler not only learned the moves, the voice, but he also sings. There are a few moments where they use the iconic real Presley voice, but the rest of the time it’s Butler, and it’s a really solid mimic. Most Elvis impersonators would kill to sound like Austin Butler.
The narration, by the terrific Barton, can’t really ever capture a director’s style, and if yu feel like you’re missing something, it’s because Baz is such a vibrant director. his movies just look great. If you could see, you could mute the sound, and just look at his film and be impressed by all the choices he’s making, and the creative team he’s assembled to put his vision together.
Elvis is not a perfect film. it runs a bit long, it jumps around too much, and it features a problematic narrator with a rather unfortunate performance from Tom Hanks. But I have a feeling none of that could stop a true fan of the King of Rock And Roll from checking this film out.
Final Grade: B-