Film succeeds in depicting the legend and the ups and downs of his career
It’s easy to forget that you’re watching an actor, Austin Butler, in “Elvis.” He really seems to be the King.
Mr. Butler has definitely embraced Elvis Presley’s mannerisms and voices, but it’s more than that. He has captured the legendary rocker’s heart in a movie that led to applause last weekend at one local screening and likely others. Mr. Butler embodies Elvis Presley with an authentic performance that won’t be mistaken for an Elvis impersonation.
Mr. Butler seems likely to get an Oscar nomination, and Tom Hanks will probably get one too for his portrayal of Mr. Presley’s not-to-be-trusted manager, Col. Tom Parker. “Elvis” will probably pick up Oscar nominations for best picture and, for the talented Baz Lurhmann, best director.
“Elvis” dives deep into the King’s soul, exploring how he came to embrace blues and country and blend them into his style of rock. The film features music performed by Mr. Butler as Elvis, as well as recordings by the King himself.
What’s more, “Elvis” explores the rocky relationship between Col. Parker, the manager with a mysterious past, and Elvis. At first, Col. Parker helps Elvis to succeed, but later becomes a stumbling block in the singer’s happiness and a pariah on the revenues of Elvis Presley Enterprises. Col. Parker clearly saw Elvis as his meal ticket and later as his salvation from Las Vegas gambling debts.
Like Mr. Butler, Mr. Hanks embodies the real-life person he’s playing, and watching the two actors together is a cinematic experience.
And the movie looks in detail at Elvis’ career, everything from his entertaining but controversial dancing/wiggles to movies that fell short of his aspirations to be a dramatic actor. (The plots became so formulaic that if you saw one Elvis Presley movie such as “Viva Las Vegas,” arguably the best of them, you’ve essentially seen all the Elvis movies.)
“Elvis” deals honestly with all of that, as well as the King’s evolution into a cultural phenomenon.
In addition, the film features outstanding performances by Helen Thomson as Gladys Presley, Elvis’ mother; Richard Roxburgh as Vernon Presley, Elvis’ father; Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley, Elvis’ wife; Kelvin Harrison Jr. as B.B. King, who inspired Elvis; and Dacre Montgomery as Steve Binder, who honestly told Elvis his career was in the toilet when he directed his comeback special on NBC.
Mr. Binder, an Oxnard resident, talked about Mr. Presley during a 2014 News-Press interview and recalled how Col. Parker wanted a special of Christmas songs for the December 1968 program.
Instead, Mr. Binder felt the special should be a return to Elvis’ roots. He put the singer on a small, square stage, surrounded by fans on all four sides (right up to the edge of the stage), at the NBC studios in Burbank. He had Elvis Presley perform the songs the legendary rocker loved, and the singer improvised a talk in the special about his life and career.
“He talked about the past. He laughed at his own talent as an actor in his movies,” Mr. Binder told the News-Press. “He talked about what it was like being on the road with the guys, whatever came into his head.”
Mr. Binder will discuss Elvis further during a talk at 6:30 p.m. Thursday with Ventura journalist Ivor Davis at the Museum of Ventura County, 100 E. Main St., Ventura. (For information about the program, go to venturamuseum.org.)
The “Elvis” movie wisely spends a good deal of time on that 1968 NBC special, which shows Elvis Presley’s growth toward becoming an artist independent from Col. Parker. But Elvis could never separate himself entirely from the charming manager, who dissuaded him from going on an international tour. Instead, Col. Parker convinced Elvis to be a longtime performer in Las Vegas at the International Hotel, which became the Las Vegas Hilton.
And Col. Parker pushed Elvis to perform nonstop, energetic concerts that took a toll on the singer emotionally and physically. The singer struggled with exhaustion, opiates and his weight and died much too young at age 42 in 1977 in Memphis.
“Elvis” shows the singer was uncertain about what he had accomplished in his life. But to this day, his music, varying from “Suspicious Minds” to “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hounddog,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “Blue Suede Shoes,” remain a timeless part of American culture. His musical spirit lives on.