Review by Cat Earley
In an age where biopics show no end in sight, Elvis (2022, Baz Luhrmann) is one of the more predictable releases of the year. With the legacy of Moulin Rouge! (2001) and The Great Gatsby (2013) behind him, Luhrmann’s take on this increasingly popular film genre is, well, predictably Baz Luhrmann. Indeed, its opulent set dressings, flashy cinematography, and bombastic performances have made it difficult to mistake it for any other director. But it would be short-sighted to presume that Luhrmann’s antics do not serve a greater purpose than to extend his signature to this piece.
In the 21st century, it would almost seem predictable – if not somewhat unoriginal – to produce a biopic surrounding the life of legendary rockstar Elvis Presley. But perhaps the timing of this piece was essential in Luhrmann’s team being able to source the components necessary to do it justice. Borrowing from Gatsby, Luhrmann’s approach to telling Presley’s story through the perspective of another lends credence to this public image of the King of Rock n’ Roll, substituting the fading nostalgia for Presley’s music, with a cinematic technique that would make even an ignorant audience understand the importance of his legacy.
Irrespective of any discussions on its quality, the film, at the very least, objectively manages to capture the star-studded opulence associated with the vanquished memories of the 1950s rock scene. Hanks’ performance is impeccable as always, and even newcomer Austin Butler brings a frenzied energy to the role that blends well with the overzealous nature of the film. It is not a masterpiece by any means, and certainly not Luhrmann’s magnus opus, but the hazy dreamlike quality of the film (assisted by its over-the-top cinematography and set design) lulls the audience into a sense of hypnotism of place.
If the role of a biopic is to create an honest depiction of the life of the public figure, then I’m not sure we can call Elvis a success. But if we place the focus on entertainment, on creating a mood, on shifting the audience into the aforementioned state of specific nostalgia, then I believe Elvis does have something to say. Through clumsily attempted commentary on mid-20th century celebrity culture, over-the-top imagery, and often-unnecessary dramatics, this Elvis Presley biopic conveys perhaps not an accurate portrayal of Presley’s life, but at least a tangible understanding of the aesthetics of his era. I cannot know for sure whether this effect was Luhrmann’s intention, but if it was, it is safe to say he has reached his goal.