Elvis critics are starting to roll in and they’re praising actor Austin Butler’s performance in the epic biopic while noting that the direction is a bit over the top. The Baz Luhrmann-directed film is set to hit theaters on June 24, but it recently screened for audiences and critics at the Cannes Film Festival in Italy. Speak audiovisual club, the film was reportedly greeted with a standing ovation. Following the Cannes premiere, many outlets started posting reviews, and it seems the reactions were quite mixed overall.
However, the one thing almost everyone seems to agree on is that Butler’s portrayal of Elvis Presley is very good. “As to the big question of whether Butler could successfully establish himself as one of the most indelible icons in the history of American pop culture, the answer is an unqualified yes,” the reviewer wrote to THR. , David Rooney. “His stage moves are sexy and hypnotic, his melancholic, lost mama’s son quality is worthy of a swoon, and he captures the tragic paradox of a phenomenal achievement that clings tenaciously to the American dream even as he continues to crumble in his hands.” Scroll down to read more reviews and reactions to, Elvis.
“A Hole in Its Center”
While Rooney had a lot of praise for Butler, he still had issues with other aspects of Elvis, including the script and the character of Tom Hanks. “But this biopic’s heart is tainted, thanks to a storyline whose choppy patchwork feel is perhaps directly correlated to its convoluted billing – by Baz Luhrmann & Sam Bromell & Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce & Jeremy Doner; Baz’s Story Luhrmann and Jeremy Doner,” he wrote. “This bite suggests an amalgamation of different versions, though the big hurdle is the off-putting character driving the narrative, who punches a hole in the middle.”
Rooney continued: “That would be ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks in arguably the least appealing performance of his career – a creepy, beady-eyed glow under a mountain of latex, with a squeaky, unidentifiable accent that becomes no less perplexing even after the character’s obscure Dutch origins are revealed. It’s a big risk to tell your story through the prism of a morally repugnant egoist, financial abuser who used his manipulative barking skills carnival to control and exploit his vulnerable star attraction, driving him to exhaustion and draining him of an inordinate proportion of his earnings.”
“One of the best sequences…”
In his review, Deadline Writer Pete Hammond pointed to the film’s portrayal of Elvis’ famous comeback performance as one of its strengths. “One of the film’s best sequences revolves around the 1968 ‘comeback’ special, where Elvis – in a black leather suit and returning to the music that made him – revived his career after Hollywood got tired of the formula that Parker had tricked in. True to form, Parker wanted a more conventional Elvis for this special, he wanted him to wear a holiday sweater and sing a few Christmas tunes, and so it was. “He sold out the show. Presley himself and special director Steve Binder (Declan Montgomery), who used the platform to return the king to his throne ignoring Parker’s orders.”
Praising the film’s star, Hammond wrote: “Butler, previously best known in films for playing Tex Watson in Quentin Tarantino Once upon a time in Hollywood, is an ideal choice as the Presley both visually and vocally, and is actually sung in the first half of the early Elvis era (replaced by bits of the real Elvis in later years). Perhaps more than anyone who took Elvis seriously, Butler succeeds in an exciting way, particularly in the first half of the film, with an authentic pacing that makes us wonder what heights Elvis might have climbed had he not not succumbed to the dark side of his own fame. “
“Compulsively Watchable…Fever Dream”
Variety Owen Gleiberman seemed somewhat divided over the film, stating, “Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is a bubbly, delirious, mischievous and compulsively watchable 2 hour and 39 minute fever dream – a reel of a movie that converts the Elvis saga we all carry around in our heads into a lavishly staged biopic-as-pop – opera. Luhrmann, who crafted this romantically-paced razzle-dazzle masterpiece Red Mill! (and in 20 years has never come close to equaling him), is not interested in doing a conventional biography of Elvis. And who would? Luhrmann films the works, jumping from climax to climax, cutting out anything too prosaic (Elvis’ entire decade churning out bland Hollywood musicals passes in the blink of an eye). He taps into the Elvis of our daydreams, scorching us with the heat of the king’s showbiz and spinning his music – and how it was rooted in the genius of black musical forms – like a mixing master through time.”
“The King’s Electrostatic Movements”
Commenting on Butler’s performance and Elvis’ portrayal, Gleiberman wrote, “Austin Butler, the 30-year-old actor who plays Elvis, has bedroom eyes and cherub lips and nails the electrostatic king moves. He also does a pretty good imitation of Elvis’ sultry trailing velvet. Yet his likeness to Elvis never quite hits you in the solar plexus. Butler is more like the young John Travolta crossed with Jason Priestly, and I think that the reason it harasses one isn’t just because Elvis was (arguably) the most handsome man of the 20th century.”
He continued: “It’s also that Butler, while he knows how to bring the good old boy sexy side, doesn’t have the danger of Elvis. Elvis had a demonic look that came here nestled in that twinkle of a smile. We’ve lived for half a century in a world of Elvis impersonators, and Butler, like most of them, has a close quality but not the real thing. He doesn’t quite invoke Elvis’ inner aura of hound majesty.
To finish, Independent wire writer David Ehrlich has made it clear he’s not a fan of much in Elvis, but he praised Butler’s performance. “Butler’s immaculate Presley impersonation would be the best thing about this film even if it stopped at mimicry, but the actor does more than just nail Presley’s singing voice and stage presence; he manages also to challenge them, freeing itself from iconography and giving the film an opportunity to create a new emotional context for a man who was frozen in time before Luhrmann’s target audience was born.”
Summing up his D-level review, Ehrlich concluded, “Luhrmann’s sensory overload has resulted in some of the most electric and eerie moments in modern cinema, from the aquarium sequence in ‘Romeo + Juliet’ to the elephant mash-up in Red Mill! and this fantastic party sequence in Gatsby the magnificentbut the hyper-romantic energy of those movies helped weave the present into the past in a way that made them both feel more alive. Elvis does not discover such a purpose. He finds so little reason for Presley’s life to be the stuff of a Baz Luhrmann movie that the equation eventually reverses, leaving us with an Elvis Presley movie about Baz Luhrmann. They both deserve better.”