Luhrmann's Elvis a Disquieting, Discomforting Look Behind the Curtain

FTC Statement: Reviewers are frequently provided by the publisher/production company with a copy of the material being reviewed.The opinions published are solely those of the respective reviewers and may not reflect the opinions of or its management.

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. (This is a legal requirement, as apparently some sites advertise for Amazon for free. Yes, that's sarcasm.)


There are a number of biopics out the focused on the life of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. And while it's his name on the marquee and his spotlight throughout the film, this movie isn't really so much about him as what he might have been had it not been for the man behind the manufacturing of his persona: "Colonel" Tom Parker.

The film is told from Parker's retrospective, in a sort of magical realism after he is hospitalized. He begins to tell the audience about Elvis as he wanders through a Vegas casino wearing his hospital gown and hooked up to his IV drip. Parker's accent is initially hard to receive, and one might wonder why Tom Hanks is giving the character such a European flavor. Elvis fanatics would understand, of course, and the audience would later learn as well that there was no such man as "Tom Parker" but rather an expatriate from Holland working under an assumed name as a carnival act promoter. In fact it was this secret that contributed to Elvis being held back from an even wider audience than the one he reached, with Parker's machinations making it unfavorable for Elvis to perform internationally.

Austin Butler's Elvis is a decent enough interpretation: he has the look, he has the moves. He just didn't have the script, as we don't really learn that much about Elvis and his relationships (save for the one he had with his mother, played by Helen Thomson, which was sufficiently off-putting). Even Priscilla (Olivia Delonge) is sidelined, having only one big moment as the cast does a musical number on a bus to symbolize the move to Las Vegas.

The film does have some Elvis upsides, though. Perhaps the times when we truly do see Elvis and the way he would interact with people was when he would go to the blues clubs and make music with B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison) and other notable blues artists of the day.. You begin to feel for him in these instances so much that, even though you know it's historical record, you begin to root for him when he starts to try to defy Parker's manipulations. And on the odd occassion when those defiances give another glimpse at the real Elvis, you almost feel proud for him.

If you're a die-hard Elvis fan, you'll certainly have already seen the film in theaters, and likely want this in your collection. If you're a casual fan who'd like to learn more, you'd be better served with other offerings, like the miniseries Elvis and Me, told from perspective of Priscilla Presley.

Watch Elvis on any of the streaming services listed here.

3.5 / 5.0