Elvis’ blue suede shoes a great fit for Austin Butler



Austin Butler stars as Elvis Presley in the film “Elvis.”

Kelly Feng, Managing Editor

I admit I was skeptical about Austin Butler playing the lead role in “Elvis.” Isn’t Butler the same guy from Zippy Brewster on Nickelodeon’s “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide?”  

When I learned the blonde heartthrob was cast as Elvis Presley, I thought it was darling, but it would probably not amount to anything worth seeing. 

I am happy to report I was wrong. 

Butler does a fantastic job crafting the iconic character, not through a showy exhibition but by seizing Elvis’s iconic performances, hip-swiveling onto the stage and singing to an enchanted crowd.  

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, “Elvis” is a biopic that follows the singer as a child influenced by gospel music, quickly rising as a rock star, captivating crowds, marrying Priscilla, popping pills, enduring Las Vegas and constantly overdosing. Prescription barbiturates brought on a heart attack, and he died in 1977 at 43.  

Tom Hanks plays Elvis’s manager, Colonel Parker, the man that “made” Elvis. In reality, he was a con man who saw Elvis as an opportunity and exploited every show and dollar. 

Elvis’s story is curiously told from the viewpoint of Colonel Parker, with Hanks giving an over-the-top performance. It is a strange choice because there’s nothing likable about his character, so it’s hard for the audience to embrace him.  

But it doesn’t matter who’s telling Elvis’s story — we never get a chance to understand the King because too much of the film’s attention spotlights the director and his movie technique.  

Luhrmann is known for his non-linear cinematic style, kinetic pace, constant cutaways, exaggerated lighting and machine-gun editing. In “Elvis,” Luhrmann over-delivers and overshadows the characters and story. The movie isn’t about the director’s technique (although he thinks it is), and his trademark visual aesthetic is often the center of the film, eclipsing Elvis and the icon’s relationships and demons.  

The production design is an extravagant lighting and ribboned candy calamity, and I needed tinted glasses to keep my eyes on the screen.  

We see more of Colonel Parker than necessary. It’s strange to see the lopsided screen time given to Hanks. His character is a cartoon, and his makeup and prosthetics do nothing for his acting. I spent more time wondering how Hank’s foundation was applied than what his character had to say. We’re supposed to feel pity for Colonel, which is ridiculous since he took off with 50% of Elvis’s earnings. 

The film’s biggest loss is the chance to recognize Elvis’s angst and anxiety. We should also understand his sadness and regret at roads not taken, like his marriage breakup and lost opportunities to entertain overseas.  

 Butler is outstanding at evoking the poignancy and frustration of the exceptionally gifted musician surrounded by people who exploit and enable him. When Elvis is offstage, Butler silently embodies the singer in small nuances, like gazing at Priscilla, played by Olivia DeJonge, or speaking with a southern twang.  

Unfortunately, he doesn’t have enough time. 

The singer is showcased through small soundbites, and Butler needs more screen time to dramatize Elvis’s frustration and anger, unless you count the short scene where he throws furniture in a Las Vegas hotel room. 

Despite that, the Nickelodeon hero is the shining light of “Elvis.” 

It’s hard to describe how Butler grabs our attention. He has the quiet presence and emerging essence of Elvis and certainly resembles him in hair, face and body movement.  

The makeup department does it right this time, applying Butler’s cosmetics, and the final scene prosthetics are eerily on point. I had to keep switching between the video of the real Elvis singing “Unchained Melody” and the movie actor’s version; the two are so closely identical.  

Despite the movie’s flaws, the audience will leave the theater with a greater understanding of Elvis’s music and cultural and generational impact. 

However, in the mix of constant distractions, moviegoers missed out on a deeper dive into the icon, and isn’t that the point of a biopic?