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Austin Butler wows as Elvis Presley in a still from Elvis, directed by Baz Luhrmann. Photo: Warner Bros

ReviewCannes 2022: Elvis movie review – Austin Butler as Elvis Presley is dazzling in Baz Luhrmann’s intoxicating rock ’n’ roll biopic

  • Austin Butler and Tom Hanks play the King and his shady manager Colonel Tom Parker in a crazy tale of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll
  • With Luhrmann’s theatrical style, the costumes, a long playlist of Elvis classics and Butler’s brilliant portrayal of the star, this biopic is a winner

4.5/5 stars

Baz Luhrmann is back with an intoxicating take on Elvis Presley. Who better than one of cinema’s great showmen to bring us a biopic of the king of rock ’n’ roll?

His theatrical brand of filmmaking, with all its crazed hedonism, in movies such as Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby, fits Elvis like a rhinestone-studded glove.

Premiering out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, Elvis is a wild 159-minute ride that takes viewers from the singer’s early years in Memphis, Tennessee, through to his death in 1977, aged 42. In a film that never stops vibrating, it is as if the birth of rock’n’roll is happening right in front of you.

Fats Domino, Little Richard and other icons make appearances. But this is Elvis’ film, brilliantly embodied by Austin Butler, the young American who has already appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Here, he stunningly captures Elvis’ stage presence, the cadence of his voice and his increasing loneliness.

Narrating the story is Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), a shady character of no fixed country who first sees his young protégé on stage with “greasy hair and girlie make-up”.

He moulds Presley into a star, steering him through a difficult time when he’s threatened with prison for concerts that get female audiences very hot under the collar.

“A showman is only as good as his attraction,” Parker says, but as Luhrmann shows, Elvis becomes hamstrung by his manager’s Machiavellian manipulations.

Austin Butler (left) and Tom Hanks in a still from Elvis. Photo: Warner Bros

Amid this, Elvis falls for his future wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge), though the relationship always feels secondary to his love for his audience; one superb scene after his first Las Vegas residency show sees him kissing female fans openly in front of her.

This part, following Elvis’ reinvention all in black leather for the ’68 Comeback Special, is the real meat of the film, superbly handled by Luhrmann and his team – costumes, production design and music all slickly coalescing.

While there’s an argument that Luhrmann’s Elvis is all show and no tell – how much do we really learn about the man behind the gold-framed sunglasses? – it’s such a dazzling performance from the Australian director that it’s hard to begrudge any fleck of superficiality.

Using Elvis’ songs (everything from Hound Dog to In the Ghetto) to tell the story not only of him, but of a turbulent America going through radical change during the Civil Rights era, Elvis is a heartfelt tribute to one of the world’s greatest entertainers.

Austin Butler in a still from Elvis. Photo: Warner Bros
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