Rating: 3 stars out of 5
‘The Great Gatsby’ is widely considered to be the quintessential Great American novel. The cautionary tale about the roaring twenties has been tackled multiple times by Hollywood before to no success. This latest attempt at an adaptation is helmed by Baz Luhrmann, the Australian director behind fare such as ‘Romeo + Juliet’ and ‘Moulin Rouge!’
The story sees Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), an optimistic bond salesman who settles into his modest rental next door to the mammoth mansion of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), the enigmatic millionaire who throws parties for the elite of New York every weekend. Gatsby gets close to Carraway, hoping Nick would do him a favour: reuniting him with Nick's cousin, socialite Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), the love of his life that he hasn't seen in five years. A slight problem with that, as Daisy's already married to the philandering Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).
As you would expect from a Baz Luhrmann movie, the film is full of bombastic visual splendour, though 3D seems rather unnecessary, considering the subject matter. Instantly, we see multiple sweeping shots of New York's skyline and a near obsession with turning the film into an epic night out at Zouk.
Luhrmann's version of the 1920s is a CGI one that's particularly glitzy and glamorous, which looks more like a 1920s version of a sorority party gone wild than what most would envision old time New York era to be. The glitz is almost garish, especially when complemented by the Jay-Z produced soundtrack.
Unexpected musical choices can work in a movie's favour (just ask Tarantino) and the element of surprise can be awfully charming in the right moment. This is not the right case. Jay-Z's choices of such modern urban classics such as ‘Izzo’ or his missus’ (Beyonce) ‘Crazy in Love’ stick out like a sore thumb for the entirety of the movie and proves to be a massive distraction.
Who would think that hip-hop would be a bad fit with 1920s imagery, huh? This pairing is one of the most awkward musical combinations since... well, the last time Jay-Z got on stage at the Grammys with Linkin Park and Paul McCartney for the world's most awkward version of ‘Yesterday’.
Also see: MovieMania – Baz Luhrmann
The spectacle of it all overshadows the actual events of the film, which are handled in a rather shoddy manner by Luhrmann. Seemingly absent from this adaptation are the themes of social upheaval or idealism, replaced by a heavy emphasis on the decadence of it all.
All the subtlety found in the novel is lost in the midst of the controlled chaos found in the film. In particular, Luhrmann's decision to roll with Carraway as a narrator in the movie is particularly troubling – while it's a decision that remains faithful to the book, it's relied on far too often in this adaptation to be effective in the medium of cinema.
Luhrmann uses Maguire's voice to tell us too much and too often, instead of showing us and letting the scenes play out naturally, robbing many big moments of their importance in favour of convenience. Even more laughable is the movie's sudden attempt to infuse Fitzgerald's original themes at the end of the movie after having done its best to ignore them for the entire duration of the movie.
Indeed, hardly anything about the film can be considered memorable before the appearance of DiCaprio's Gatsby. In what is the film's only saving grace, the film's impressive cast manages to chime in with strong performances on screen despite the forgettable dialogue and the ridiculous number of things happening on screen at the same time.
DiCaprio's Gatsby is full of mystery and more importantly, full of that near psychotic drive, desire and obsession for his love. Joel Edgerton also stands out as Tom Buchanan –imposing and believable as Daisy's wealthy but bigoted ex All-American football player husband and definitely worth of some disdain in his short amount of screen time, proving that he did his job rather well.
To sum it up, the movie feels like a Baz Luhrmann movie than an actual attempt at an adaptation of the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fans of Luhrmann's previous work will love the extravagance of his graphics enhanced sets, and the prettily dressed actors (Brooks Brothers are the official clothiers). However, the rest of the movie is far too empty and almost appears to be a commercial in disguise for Tiffany & Co. and Jay-Z produced music.
The movie isn't a complete mess but the elements from Luhrmann’s gaudy grandeur don’t play too well to the material's strengths at all. Coupled with the expectations that come with adapting such an iconic book, this movie is a crushing disappointment.
Far too often, the movie tries to use its glossy polished good looks to compensate for the lack of heart and soul on the inside but it is to no avail as even that gets tiring way too quickly.