The king of rock and roll gets an elaborate and colorful new biopic in the spectacular new version, “Elvis”, starring Tom Hanks and Austin Butler and directed by Baz Luhrmann. The director, known for epic films such as ‘Moulin Rouge’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’, portrays the familiar story of Elvis Presley’s rise to fame with spiritual emptiness, deception and turmoil .
Hank’s Colonel Tom Parker, the story’s narrator, takes on the villain role, manipulating the teenage singer (Butler) into superstardom before trapping him in a series of crushing compromises. Whether the young Memphis teenager became Elvis would eventually find out without him is unlikely, but the film’s silent question remains “at what cost?”
The story of Elvis parallels the biblical character of Solomon, who ascended to the highest peaks and saw only emptiness at the top. As the writer said, “All is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2), the character also states that he himself has accomplished nothing of value, nothing to show for all his sacrifice and trauma . Surrounded by opulence and knowing very little unconditional love, he finds himself alone in every room, even a crowded fairground.
During these moments of introspection, Butler shines, portraying a man in search of meaning. Like fellow music legend Aretha Franklin, who ironically shares the same day of death with Elvis, he rekindles that focus by returning to the gospel music he first heard in the Pentecostal tent revivals. While touring Presley’s Graceland home, visitors will see books displayed with his daughter Lisa Marie’s comment: “He had batteries by his bed. He read all the time. . . Always spiritual in nature. Still looking. . . Always looking for something. As the world knows, tragedy occurs, however, before he can fully find peace.
Like Luhrmann’s previous works, “Elvis” is an elegant piece of film with stellar performances that will be discussed for years to come. The music is naturally a central theme, though it never really dominates the plot, and the film never really evolves into a straight-up musical. Hanks’ Parker is multi-faceted, both creepy and warm, nurturing and vengeful. Butler, however, is the shooting star, delivering an outstanding performance.
“Elvis,” also starring Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge, Luke Bracey, Natasha Bassett, David Wenham, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Samuel and Kodi Smit-McPhee, is out June 24 from Warner Brothers. It is rated PG-13 for substance abuse, foul language, suggestive material, and smoking.