Austin Butler’s portrayal of Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s biopic “Elvis” has been nothing short of electrifying. The young actor, who made a name for himself with TV roles in “The Carrie Diaries” and a supporting role in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” has made the most of his career-defining role as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. And his performance has not gone unnoticed. Butler has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, a testament to the grit and grace he brings to his portrayal of the legendary performer.
Even as the film faced criticism for not delving deeply enough into Presley’s life and legacy, Butler shines as the young Elvis, doing his own singing and capturing the energy and spirit of the icon. He shares the screen with another Hollywood legend, Tom Hanks, who plays Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ controversial and controlling manager. While Hanks gives a commendable performance, the script fails to fully develop his character.
What sets Butler apart is his ability to make Elvis’ untapped potential as an actor palpable. In scenes from the film, we see the King in the exhilarating act of inventing himself before being caught in the trap of his own celebrity. Butler’s physical decline, as Elvis’ addiction to pills took its toll, is also conveyed with devastating effect. The film may not have achieved classic status, but Butler’s performance is a standout.
“Elvis” is a visual feast, a pop-cultural opera that appeals to the flamboyant sense of showmanship that was so integral to Elvis’ appeal. Director Baz Luhrmann, known for his work on “Romeo+Juliet,” “Moulin Rouge,” and “The Great Gatsby,” never misses an opportunity to wow audiences with sights and sounds that transport them to another time and place. And with production design by Catherine Martin, Luhrmann’s wife, the film is a glittering celebration of Elvis’ life and legacy.
While the film makes an effort to show Elvis’ cultural appropriation of Black roots music, it also highlights his cultural rebellion, as he ignited a fire with his hip-swiveling gyrations to music labeled “the devil’s music” by fundamental Christians at the time. Elvis’ 1968 TV comeback special is a highlight, as he rebels against Colonel Parker’s attempts to control him by bringing his political passion into his music.
Butler’s nomination for a Best Actor Oscar is well-deserved. His performance as Elvis is nothing short of stunning, capturing the essence of the legendary performer in a way that has audiences captivated. Elvis’ daughter Lisa Marie Presley (who passed away recently) has been quoted as saying, “If he doesn’t get an Oscar for this, I will eat my own foot.” And while that statement may be hyperbole, there’s no denying that Butler’s performance is a triumph. The film may not tell the whole truth about Elvis’ life, but it gives audiences a glimpse into the heart of one of the greatest performers of the 20th century, and Butler’s Oscar-nominated performance is the centerpiece of that celebration.