New Biopic on Elvis Presley Takes Care of Business Beautifully
By Gianna Campanaro
Baz Luhrman can best be credited for his theatrically extravagant and detailed films such as “Moulin Rouge” and “The Great Gatsby,” which was the last and most previous project he worked on before his latest, “Elvis,” released in theaters in June. Luhrman’s “Elvis'' upholds an entrancing and almost hypnotizing quality that sucks you right into the film.
Cinematography wise, the transitions are flawless. They move the scenes along in such a smooth and satisfying way, without being choppy or abrupt. Especially within the 10-year time jump that shows an array of different stills all at once. The way the transitions move in such an effortless fashion showcases the blend of time. The visuals are artistic in design and theatrical in production. They accentuate Luhrman’s specified style in a theatrical manner. This technique can also be attributed to his 2001 film “Moulin Rouge,” which is currently in revival on Broadway.
Luhrman’s decade of dedication can be noted in every small and insignificant detail. Costumes – crafted by his wife and designer, Catherine Martin – were precisely replicated to keep the story consistent, capturing the historical essence of the person portrayed. This is especially credible in the designs made for Elvis and Priscilla, referenced from past photographs and home videos.
This photographic history pushes forward within the objects nestled between the small nooks and crannies of the set designs. There is a notable photo of Presley sitting in the kitchen of one of his family’s old apartments, where Wonder bread and Saltine Crackers appear in the background. These same objects and details were also placed within the scenery of the movie, showcasing where he and his family are in their kitchen apartment. This can also be recognized in the depiction of Sun Records and Graceland, the set of the studio and home exact replicas to the originals in equipment, furniture and architectural design.
This detail-oriented quality is compelling in nature, leaving a viewer drawn into the picture and driven to rewatch it over and over again as a means to pick up on every little thing they missed the previous time they watched it. There is so much to absorb, especially within a quick recap of a 10-year period where multiple stills are presented in one shot. It’s strenuous, trying to take in everything at once. It is truly something that needs to be dissected and peeled like an onion to uncover every single layer.
After dedicating 10 years to absorbing everything Luhrman needed to know about Presley, the new film adapted with the portrayal of Austin Butler as the King of Rock n’ Roll, an actor who was not typically recognized for any highly credible roles. He was mostly known as a childhood star in uninspiring performances, eventually breaking away and starring on other prematurely canceled series. Butler was committed to this role, just as Baz was to create this film. He spent two years obsessing over Elvis, working with a vocal coach to mirror and replicate Elvis’s accent and vocals, as well as his mannerisms. Before this, Butler did not have any previous experience with singing and performing in front of large audiences. Baz set the stage for Butler, crafting the set into a working concert, where Butler performed an entire set for extras without the word “cut” ever breaking the air.
With this very natural and uplifting environment, Butler was able to experience what Elvis had while performing, truly capturing the essence of Presley; it becomes impossible to define the difference between the real man and the one portraying him, especially when they are seen side by side or in transition. Because of this, you may not even realize that Butler is not lip-syncing over Presley in the beginning. Instead, Butler’s true trained voice was recorded and utilized since Presley’s earlier track quality was not sustainable for Luhrman’s live concert craftsmanship. As for the later performances, Butler sang over Presley’s tracks. A sense of deception takes over as two voices blend into one.
As for the other cast members, Luhrman mostly focused on Australian representation, but was more specific when casting American actors, Butler and Tom Hanks. The latter’s accent for Colonel Tom Parker can be seen as overdramatic, but this exaggeration built up an intentional sense of annoyance and distaste.
Overall, the characters were cast perfectly, even the supporting roles carried by Olivia DeJone as Priscilla Presley and Dacre Montgomery as Steve Binder. The resemblance is uncanny between Helen Thomson as Glady Presley and Kevin Harrison Jr. as B.B. King– who look nothing like them in real life. The makeup team painted a true picture of the story with such precision.
The film is approximately two hours and 39 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for adult-like material, revolving around the suggestion of sexual content, alcoholism, drug abuse and smoking. It is already out of cinemas, but can be accessed on demand, HBO Max, and is still being televised on cable. It is also available on DVD.