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Overly simplistic ‘Elvis’ biopic hits streaming services

Originally Published on September 16, 2022

Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” biopic, featuring Austin Butler in the titular role, is now available on HBO Max. (Photo courtesy of IMDb)

When I saw the trailers and ads for “Elvis,” I wasn’t particularly excited. I didn’t see why his story was worth telling again at this particular moment in history. However, with a strong box office performance, a positive critical reception and its recent release on HBO Max, I decided it was worth checking out. While I found some interesting elements in this biopic, I ultimately found it to be an overly positive portrayal of Elvis that missed the opportunity to explore the complexities of his legacy.

The story is told from the perspective of Elvis’ former manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), covering key moments starting from Presley’s rise to stardom up until his death in 1977.

The beginning of the film presents intriguing possibilities for narrative complexity by chronicling how the Colonel was drawn to the idea of capitalizing on Black music through a white artist. Though the Colonel was racist and xenophobic, he understood the popularity of Black music. When he found Elvis, a white man who was fascinated by blues and gospel, he found the perfect instrument for his pursuit of musical exploitation. I felt this aspect of the story gave the biopic more contemporary relevance and I was looking forward to a more progressive, realistic biopic on Elvis.

The film also has elements of visual intrigue. Luhrmann retains his signature maximalist style and the film pops off the screen with dazzling colors, fast-paced editing and creative transitions. This works particularly well during the extravagant performance sequences where actor Austin Butler wonderfully captures the sound, dancing and sex appeal of Elvis.

Unfortunately, the film paints a rosy and inauthentic representation of Elvis. It omits problematic elements of Elvis’ history such as his dating of underaged women — including his wife Priscilla, who he started dating at age 14 — and side steps facts about Elvis’ support of Nixon’s anti-communist agenda. While the film also highlights how Elvis’ career drew attention to Black artists like Little Richard, B.B. King and Big Mama Thornton, it severely underemphasizes Elvis’ appropriation of Black culture.

While Tom Hanks is a biopic veteran, I felt he was miscast as the Colonel. Hanks constantly moves in and out of his accent which pulls the viewer out of the film’s immersion. I also did not find the Colonel as menacing as the story wanted him to be, which made his manipulation of Elvis less believable on the screen.

Eventually, the latter half of the film becomes too narratively contrived for its own good. It feels like there’s this constant tug of war between the story of the Colonel and Elvis, making the film too structurally loose.

Ultimately, I feel there were lots of other movies I would recommend over “Elvis.” The film’s lack of complexity doesn’t match the 159 minute runtime.


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