Director Baz Luhrman’s biopic of Elvis Presley is big, boisterous, and overstuffed with every “dialed up to eleven” story choice. Elvis stars Austin Butler as Elvis Presley and Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s business manager, who bilked the King of 50% of his earnings and kept him squirrelled away from potentially prosperous ventures. Much of the film focuses on the relationship between Elvis and Parker, which leaves little time for Elvis’s other relationships, and Presley’s tragic descent into later-life drug abuse gets less attention that it perhaps deserves. 

When not focused on this parasitic relationship, Elvis shines with brilliantly rendered and shot musical numbers. I recommend the film almost totally based upon Austin Butler’s performance. He is fantastic, embodying Elvis’s larger-than-life persona, capturing the gyrating hips that sent the country into a tizzy, and booming Elvis’s haunting baritone singing voice. Unlike some other recent rock biopics, Butler does his own singing, and the performance is better for it. These musical numbers benefit from Baz Luhrman’s heavy-handed direction and frenetic editing, but in the film’s quieter moments, between Hanks and Butler’s characters, Luhrman’s direction is a distraction.

 Normally, it’s wise to trust Tom Hanks with the emotional heft of a film, but Elvis is the rare exception. Hanks is a great, two-time Academy Award- winner, but sadly, he’s the weak link in this movie. Most of his performance is hidden under terrible makeup and a vague accent he inconsistently intones. Tom Hanks is great, but he’s not great in Elvis.

Ultimately, I’m recommending Elvis but only at three stars and mainly for Austin Butler, whose Elvis is sure to get audiences all shook up.. 

Three out of five stars.