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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Elvis' Review: Baz Luhrmann Has A Little Less Subtlety & A Little More Austin Butler

Austin Butler performing on a stage with an acoustic guitar
Warner Bros. Pictures

We're caught in a trap and can't walk out of the theatre even when it's all a bit too much, baby. Putting the bang in whizbang is director Baz Luhrmann with his new supersonic Elvis Presley biopic Elvis (at least something has been kept simple), also co-written by him alongside Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce and Jeremy Doner. Playing the ''king of rock n' roll'' himself is Austin Butler as the film chronicles his life from late teens in 1950s, through rapid rise in fame as a hip-shaking rockstar and sex symbol, all the way to his early death in 1977. The story also mostly focuses on his relationship with his kooky manager and promoter Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), while also involving Elvis' wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) and influences of ''black music'' from that time, such as blues, gospel and rock.

Perhaps the biggest relief in regards to this outrageous piece of filmmaking is that music actually ends up being the most innovative and energetic element; Butler's stage antics are suitably flashy (enhanced by apparently actor's very own vocal chops which is always an added positive), sound mix plays around with stems to emphasise emotions and multiple remixes with interpolations of recent popular pop hits in midst of Presley's are superbly done. Other similarly well executed splashes of colour are hairstyles, costumes and most of the makeup work, as some of the prosthetics on Hanks can be quite distracting.

On another side of the coin, however, is the perplexing editing by Jonathan Redmond and Matt Villa under the guidance of Luhrmann which fluctuates between nauseating and purely annoying. There is so much coverage of Mandy Walker's photography used that you have no idea where your eye is supposed to be and many VFX-filled shots of surroundings are pointless because characters are describing the same things with dialogue. Some of those editing choices are also driven by Colonel Parker's narration and perspective, which is bizarre directing by Luhrmann because Hanks' performance with his slurring speech pattern and dead expressions is, kindly put, godawful in complete contradiction to that of charismatic and dynamic Butler.

Luhrmann and his fellow writers seem a bit lost with the script as well, clearly afraid to tackle early stages of Presley's relationship with Priscilla (there's an ambiguous five second montage about it), whom he met when she was only 14, having black artists and peers appear in mere cameos and skipping over stages when his image and character took big turns due to his addiction, also something presented mostly as haze in this film.

Smileys: Soundtrack, hairstyling

Frowneys: Editing, Tom Hanks, characterisation

Baritone still visiting a bar at one.


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