What Critics Are Saying About Elvis

Austin Butler is 'spot on' as Presley in a film with flaws
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2022 10:22 AM CDT

The king lives—in Austin Butler. The 30-year-old actor effectively transforms in Elvis, director Baz Luhrmann's (Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby) musical exploring Elvis Presley's 20-year career and relationship with manager Tom Parker, played here by Tom Hanks. Four takes on the film, with a 81% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes:

  • "You can't help falling in love with Austin Butler," who "soulfully croons and sways his hips right into our hearts," writes Johnny Oleksinski at the New York Post. "He grabs us by the collar and never lets go" with music that is "rowdy and rousing." Hanks is another story. He's "gunning for a Razzie" with his take on Parker, whose "head-scratcher of a voice, like Forrest Gump meets Rumpelstiltskin" is "distracting," Oleksinski writes.

  • Butler indeed delivers a "spot-on performance" that "would be a showstopper if only given room to breathe." But "missteps, courtesy of director Baz Luhrmann and an ill-used Tom Hanks, squander [his] brilliant moments in the title role, which deserve a much better movie," writes Brian Lowry at CNN. This one is "bloated, gaudy, and at times bordering on self-parody." And despite 2 hours and 39 minutes of running time, Luhrmann fails to develop the characters, "including, to a degree, Presley himself."
  • "Who was he? The movie doesn’t provide much of an answer," writes AO Scott at the New York Times. It "lurches and wobbles" as it argues that Presley's blending of genres continues to have an effect on the industry. But "Luhrmann seems more interested in the huckster [Parker] than in the artist," whose role in profiting "from the work of Black musicians and from industry apartheid" isn't fully explored. Still, it "made me want to listen to him, as if for the first time," Scott writes.

  • "What is clearly intended to serve as tribute to Presley's Black predecessors and contemporaries plays out instead as lip service," in a film that "consciously avoids the more fraught legacy he's had as the white 'king' of a genre rooted in Black tradition," writes Aisha Harris at NPR. But "it's not boring. Big time Luhrmann fans and Presley fans alike will find enough to latch on to here; it's a movie brimming with nostalgia and admiration for its subject."
(More movie review stories.)

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