Review: Does 'Elvis' movie do the King of Rock 'n' Roll justice?

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Austin Butler in a scene from "Elvis."

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Austin Butler in a scene from "Elvis." (Warner Brothers via Associated Press)


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Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

GRACELAND — There are a few things Hollywood loves. These include praising themselves, making money and movies about musicians.

We've seen the life stories of Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Judy Garland and Freddie Mercury. Heck, there is even a biopic of Motley Crue.

The latest musician to get the big-screen treatment is the one and only Elvis Presley.

"Elvis" stars Austin Butler as the King of Rock 'n' Roll and Tom Hanks as his infamous manager, Col. Tom Parker.

There are things to admire in "Elvis" and things that just didn't sit well with me. Here are some reasons "Elvis" strikes the right chord and why it is also out of tune.

In tune

Austin Butler as Elvis

Elvis is one of the most popular entertainers of all time, but the actor stepping into his blue suede shoes obviously isn't as well known. Austin Butler has credits in TV series like "The Shannara Chronicles" and "The Carrie Diaries." His biggest credit before "Elvis" was that of Tex Watson in "Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood."

Butler was good as Tex Watson, but it was a small part. In this movie he's carrying the picture and he does a fantastic job as Elvis. His voice, his mannerisms, his stage presence are all on point. Butler will get a lot of love for this performance and it's deserving. You should plan on seeing a lot more of the young actor from Anaheim.

The performance scenes

At its core "Elvis" is a movie about a kid who loved music and sharing his talent with the world. Elvis' performances were legendary and director Baz Luhrmann does the King justice in this aspect.

My absolute favorite parts of the movie were the performances. From carnivals in Louisiana to the big stage in Las Vegas, the performance scenes are shot expertly and give you a sense of how charismatic and engrossing an Elvis show really was.

Standout scenes include scenes of a 22-year-old Elvis at a show in Chicago as well as his first Vegas show.

Out of tune

Frenetic for the sake of being frenetic

For those familiar with Luhrmann's work you know the man loves quick cuts and frenetic editing that make you feel you're in a fever dream. Anyone remember "Moulin Rouge!"?

Lurhmann does much of the same here and I appreciate that it's a trademark and a creative choice, but it often feels out of place in "Elvis."

This happens frequently in the first third of the film and it's more distracting than intriguing. It didn't fit the narrative or the tone for me and left me shaking my head instead of smiling.

Odd choices of story focus

There is a lot to cover when you take on the subject of a man as famous and influential as Elvis Presley. It must have been incredibly difficult to decide which areas of the man's life to focus on, which to gloss over and which to completely ignore.

The filmmakers had to do exactly this, but the choices seem unfortunate to me. We skim over so much that would have been fascinating to delve into and spend too much time on areas that didn't seem quite so important.

There was also an interesting narrative choice that threw the entire movie off for me.

Parker was Elvis's long-time manager and history would tell us he wasn't a very honest or selfless man. Some believe he destroyed Elvis' life and ultimately was the reason for his early death. Speculation aside, the man is the villain of this story, but he's also our main character.

That's right, the movie may be called "Elvis," but it is told from the perspective of Parker. He is our narrator and takes us through the musician's life. I understand the attempt to think out of the box and come at the story from a different angle, but it made for a narrative that is very difficult to get behind.

It is no secret that the story of Elvis is ultimately depressing, but there is little redemption or joy to be found in the entire film. It is a downer for a solid 2½ hours and much of that tone is thanks to the direction the filmmakers took to make Parker the center of the story.

Should I go see it?

If you are an Elvis fan, I think the movie may be worth your time. If you love his music it will be fun to hear the songs and see the performances, but if not, then I'm not sure this movie is for you.

It is long at 2 hours and 39 minutes and you feel every second. The movie is incredibly depressing and left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Out of everything out there right now, I'm not sure I'd make "Elvis" my first stop at the theater.

Check back Friday for a parents guide to "Elvis."

"Elvis" is officially rated PG-13 for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material and smoking.

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John Clyde

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