Tom Hanks’s Colonel turns a great movie into a good one, which is a real shame.
Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis has the director’s unique style plastered all over the retelling of Elvis Presley’s life, for better and worse. The King of Rock and Roll’s career is a powerful and sad story all at once, but Luhrmann’s tendencies don’t necessarily make for the best film. For every interesting shot, there is a bizarre choice like adding modern music spliced with Elvis’s music as an example. Hearing a song from Doja Cat in a movie about Elvis is just odd and pulls me out of the experience every time. A bigger issue though that really hampers this movie is the story decision to frame this story around the narration and takes of Elvis’s business manager, Colonel Tom Parker played by Tom Hanks.
You see, on top of Hanks’ over-the-top performance feeling out of place with everyone else in the movie, Colonel Tom Parker is the villain of the film. Not an oh-you-like-this-guy type of villain. No, this is guy you just don’t want to be around. Except the writer’s decided that the best way to move through the events of Mr. Presley’s life was through the guise of a scummy con man that would fit more in the SNL sketch of this movie than the actual film itself. Like the music choices I mentioned earlier, it’s perplexing. The movie makes no secrets that this character isn’t one to root for, which is fine, but why have him be the glue of the story of Elvis? Why gloss over moments and other aspects of the central character for someone that is very one note? He wants money, he wants to use people to get money, and that is all there is to it. These questions only become more glaring as you watch the movie since Austin Butler delivers an award worthy performance of Elvis.
This movie would not be in contention for best picture without Butler’s performance. He’s excellent as Elvis and adds additional depth to the character where the script decided to focus more on the Colonel. Butler is electric and commands the screen in every scene. You can see that addiction to both the love of the crowd and the drugs in his eyes. There’s that pain that the movie doesn’t spend nearly enough time exploring that he makes clear in just looks. It’s always key to getting the casting right, and everyone else outside of Hank’s Colonel meshes well with Butler’s Elvis. They feed off each other and make for compelling moments, and fun concert scenes. Why it was decided to not let Elvis be the teller of his own story will always confuse me.
There is a better movie within the parts of Elvis, a movie that could have been close to a no brainer for winning the Best Picture. Instead, odd choices in the plot, production, and a wacky performance from Tom Hanks keeps this movie from being a great one.