Film Review: The Great Gatsby
A Moulin Rouge spin on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of decadence, longing, and the brutal carelessness of the wealthy could have been awesome. Isn’t that what we kind of expected when Rouge helmsman Baz Luhrmann signed on to direct The Great Gatsby, especially when he unveiled his hip hop and jazz soundtrack? What better way to bridge the gap between eras, to help today’s audience fathom the indulgent lifestyle of the filthy rich in the roaring Twenties?
Somehow, though, Luhrmann can’t quite pull it off.
It isn’t his cast. A more perfect actor-to-character match is hard to imagine. Though some may miss Robert Redford’s stiff, humorless Gatsby, Leo DiCaprio fills the screen with the vulnerability, flash and charm that made the character leap off Fitzgerald’s page. Likewise, the ever wide-eyed Tobey Maguire wanders amiably through Gatsby’s world as though he was born into Nick Carraway’s life.
Not surprisingly, it’s the great Carey Mulligan who almost effortlessly steals the film. Her voice full of money, her languid flirtations both lovely and sad, Mulligan’s marvelous Daisy Buchanan becomes so human, she’s probably more sympathetic than the character deserves to be.
Even with a strong concept, brilliant source material and a perfect cast, Luhrmann stumbles. He just tries too hard. One of the most efficiently written, perfectly crafted novels ever penned, clocking in at barely 300 pages, morphs in to a 143 minute film? Why? Needless complications.
For instance, co-writing the adaptation with frequent collaborator Craig Pearce (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge), Lurhmann opens the film on a depressed, alcoholic, insomniac Nick Carraway telling the sad tale of his neighbor Jay Gatsby to his shrink at the sanitarium.
But the film’s greatest misstep is probably the overwrought, surprisingly lifeless style. Luhrmann aims to mirror the gaudy, hopelessly shallow glamour of the era. He succeeds in spurts, but his approach is so heavy handed it overwhelms the film. Gimmicky and uninspired, the directorial vision serves mostly to draw your attention away from all that’s right about his picture.
It doesn’t kill the effort so much as undermine it. Luhrmann had something really remarkable to start with. He just needed to be a little more trusting of his cast and source material and a little less self-indulgent.
So, The Great Gatsby remains a lesson in the evils of self indulgence. Too bad, because it could have been a good movie instead.