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Hall reviews Elvis

This week on "Justin Hall At The Movies," I'll be reviewing the life and times of the King of Rock 'n Roll in "Elvis."
If there was a Mount Rushmore of singular music artists, Elvis Presley would be among them.

In the time between his debut in the 1950s and his death in 1977, Elvis changed the landscape of music. He was charismatic, controversial, perplexing and inspiring all at once. No one had ever seen or heard the type of music he was putting out and his impact is still felt today.

There have been many actors and filmmakers to step into the blue suede shoes and now we get perhaps the only director to give us a film that could match the King's exuberance: Baz Luhrmann.

The movie stars Austin Butler as Elvis and his portrayal is one that shows us his life and journey from his poverty-stricken childhood to attending a tent revival where he has a kind of religious experience, believing that music is his gift.

Tom Hanks costars as Colonel Tom Parker who starts out as a carnival barker and once he discovers the music that Elvis is putting out, he wants to take control of his career.

Soon Elvis begins a stratospheric rise, but not all of America is wowed. Some parents believe his music, his imagery and his dancing are a bad influence on children and certain politicians want him banned.

At the beginning, Elvis does go into standard biopic formula, but it's somewhat subverted due to Luhrmann's rapid-fire editing and operatic flair. However, all of Luhrmann's cinematic histrionics do give us a sense of Elvis the man in addition to Elvis the entertainer. The scenes between he and his parents (Helen Thomson and Richard Roxburgh) are especially insightful as they paint a portrait of two people who love their son, but are afraid he might become self-destructive.

Other scenes that are equally well-made are the ones that establish his romance with Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge). We see the good, the bad and ugly in this relationship and Priscilla also is worried about some of Elvis's ways and that makes her have a suspicious mind.

To call Butler's performance uncanny  would be an understatement. He's not merely imitating Elvis in terms of his voice or dancing abilities, but rather he's attempting to capture his essence in a way that is profound and we never know where Butler stops and Presley begins. I was totally convinced throughout.

Hanks is also especially effective in his role as a man who develops a turbulent relationship with Elvis. One minute, he's sycophantic. The next, he's sanctimonious. Both Hanks and Luhrmann make no attempt at making Parker's role ambigious, but rather creating the illusion of ambiguity in order to craft a sympathetic presence.

This movie showcases Elvis in such a way that we understand him as both a tormented human being and a glamorous musical persona.

At 2 hours and 40 minutes, Elvis leaves us spellbound by the performances of Butler and Hanks and Luhrmann's visual aesthetic to capturing a career that was shattering then and now. It leaves us all shook up and deservedly so.

Grade: A- (Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material and smoking.)

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