Austin Butler oozed rocker confidence as he arrived at a screening of director Baz Luhrmann‘s highly-anticipated film Elvis in New York City on Wednesday evening.
There is a buzz going around that 30-year-old American actor Austin Butler, aka Luhrmann’s Elvis, will win the Best Actor at the 2023 Academy Awards. This movie about the Tupelo, Mississippi-born King of Rock and Roll, filmed in Queensland, is Luhrmann’s best chance to win an Oscar for best director.
The Sydney-born filmmaker arguably is Australia’s most commercially successful director. This film, his sixth, is pitched to an American audience but, like Elvis himself, it has global icon.
When it comes to God or DNA, Elvis’s mother Gladys, played by Australian actor Helen Thomson, is on the former’s side. “The way you sing is God-given, so there can’t be nothing wrong with it.”
Others, from the US Senate down, disagree, wanting to ban and/or jail “Elvis the Pelvis”, a skinny white boy in a pink suit daring to amalgamate segregated black music. There’s Colonel Tom Parker (dual Oscar winner Tom Hanks), who sees both sides of the equation and works out which one will earn him the most cash.
“Now, I don’t know nothing about music, but I could see it in that girl’s eyes,’’ the cigar-chomping carnival huckster says as he watches young women watch Elvis wiggle his hips.
“She has the taste of forbidden fruit. She could have eaten him alive. He was my destiny.”
Parker, Elvis’s controversial and complicated manager, is the main narrator of this story, which is an interesting decision. Hanks’s performance is nuanced, as is Luhrmann’s direction and script (which he co-wrote).
Parker, a gambling addict, is neither a good nor a bad guy in the traditional sense. In an oddly touching moment, he tells Elvis, “We are the same, you and I.” “We’re two strange, lonely kids aiming for the stars.”
Butler sings most of Elvis’ songs personally, and his presence on stage is enough to raise the pulse of even the dead. The cinematography (by Australian cinematographer Mandy Walker) is superb. The audience’s looks, particularly those of the women, tell the narrative better than words can.
Butler received significant voice training and examined Elvis Presley video. All of the well-known songs, such as Heartbreak Hotel and Hound Dog, are performed with passion and physicality.
This includes off-stage moments when Elvis is dealing with various demons. He responds, “There are a lot of people saying a lot of things.” “However, in the end, you must pay attention to yourself.”
The clothing and production design, by Oscar winner Catherine Martin, the director’s life and art partner, are characters in and of themselves, such as when Elvis steps onto an outdoor stage, rippling his tight black leathers, and sings Trouble with the vice-squad watching.
“If you want trouble, you’ve come to the proper spot… I don’t accept orders from any kind of man.”
As the story unfolds in Elvis’ life and outside of it, Luhrmann and Australian musical director Elliott Wheeler select the appropriate background music. We hear Edge of Reality while news headlines cover the growth of The Beatles, the Vietnam War, and Martin Luther King’s killing.
There are several Australian performers in the cast, notably Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley, Elvis’ wife, and Richard Roxburgh as Elvis’ father and incompetent business manager Vernon Presley. Also starring are David Wenham, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Kate Mulvany.
The concept that “every single frame” of this film could be shot in Australia, as the director emphasized during the Sydney premiere, would have seemed impossible not long ago.
There’s also a memorable cameo by Alton Mason as Little Richard singing Tutti Frutti, as well as a longer performance by Kelvin Harrison Jnr as a wise BB King.
Elvis could have been a few minutes shorter than 159, but that’s a small issue. It rocks and rolls from start to finish, is spectacularly shot and has an amazing lead performance that reminds me of Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, for which we won an Oscar.
Butler sings the majority of the tracks, as previously stated. Elvis’ own voice is also used near the end, when he is overweight and screwed up on drugs. His final moment, where he is unable to stand and sings at a piano, is both tragic and lovely.
That time, though, would come. “What in God’s sweet name am I staring at?” one politically prominent white man says as he gazes upon the gyrating young Elvis. ” In more ways than one, this amazing film implies that one possible answer is the future.