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The Great Gatsby (review)

Review by Caitlyn Thompson
Produced by Baz Luhrmann, Douglas Wick,
Lucy Fisher, Catherine Martin, Catherine Knapman
Screenplay by Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Based on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire,
Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher,
Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Amitabh Bachcha
Warner Bros. / Rated PG-13

The Great Gatsby – the illustrious tale of mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby as told through his modest (and quite critical) neighbor, Nick Carraway.

There’s a love triangle, there are lavishing parties, but the film was devoid of emotion and an onscreen bright-color-costume mess.

Don’t get me wrong – I like Baz Luhrmann.

He has done beautiful work with Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet but his The Great Gatsby is frenzied and lacks the poignancy of the classic novel.

Gatsby begins similarly to Moulin Rouge – a drunken sad man reminisces the tale that led to his disheveled state. Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway narrates the film from the asylum where he’s being treated for severe alcoholism – a stray from the novel, yes, and not a necessary one. While it’s supposed to inspire sympathy, the setting feels cheesy and out of place. It’s splicing in and out throughout the movie is jarring and rather irritating. Carraway is supposed to be our wise and trusted narrator through whom we experience the grand lifestyles of Long Island millionaires. Maguire’s presentation is bland and highly disappointing.

Opposite Maguire is Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby. I LOVE Leo, but he just didn’t quite fit. Luhrmann’s intense close-ups completely take away from his extravagance and bring a comical element to the film. That being said, DiCaprio does really capture great nuances of the pained and anxious Gatsby but unfortunately it’s surrounded by flat reactions. The actors portray caricatures instead of characters. There is no real sympathy or depth. All of their relationships feel strained, and between Gatsby and Daisy especially, chemistry is seriously lacking.

Carey Mulligan is sweet and charming as Daisy, but that’s about it. Tom Buchanan is a big brute and Joel Edgerton physically captures the part. While the two actors look their roles beautifully, their delivery and interactions with other characters (as well as each other) is flavorless. They stick to Fitzgerald’s dialogue well enough but I felt they were simply reading lines accordingly. Luhrmann allowed for little depth and character development because his typical swinging and dancing direction was too busy distracting from the actual story.

Luhrmann does this often throughout Gatsby – takes away from the insightful and curious relationships. He introduces characters in extreme close-ups edited to look glossy-eyed and angelic, but it comes off satirical and unfitting, especially with opposing long shots of over-the-top bumbling party scenes. The camera guides us cartoonishly through rooms with servants who I almost expect to start singing and dancing based on their unnaturally choreographed synchronized movements.

Then we’re off on a high-speed car ride through a poorly rendered digital New York. At times I couldn’t help but think of Cool World and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

I expected an animated bird to pop out of fairy dust and start singing with a drunken bunch of characters. Instead, Baz presents Nick Carraway’s words as text popping across the screen (in 3D as well – which added zero to the mottled production). Everything felt scrambled and rushed.

Luhrmann’s zooming swooping direction is usually entrancing and appropriately placed (think the Capulet’s party scene in R + J). For Gatsby, he went too far and lost the story.

Despite my dislike of the repetitive roller-coaster direction, Luhrmann’s brilliance of romantic scenes did shine through briefly. A beautiful scene between Gatsby, Nick and Daisy touring his land was exciting but simultaneously incredibly gentle. 

Jay-Z’s soundtrack distracted from the retro-era of the story. There were a couple of scenes where it worked but largely the plan misfired. The film lacked a tenderness that I think is really important in order to take the story seriously. It was a big socialite party and the shallow air got stale and boring quickly. The music attempts to link something together but it felt like a giant mash up at a club and I wasn’t given the drug to make it seem awesome…

Perhaps Luhrmann was trying to make a majestic piece of work but it really wasn’t executed well. A delicacy was lacking and I was sad to feel so disappointed.

I mean come on, Gatsby can self-correct in Word, it should be treated like a big deal.

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