Release date: 30th May 2013

Director: Baz Lurhmann

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Magure, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Clarke

Review by Peter Gray

“Oh Gatsby…”

Since it was first published in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ has long been a material source in Hollywood that never quite found its cinematic feet.  In 1926 a silent version was made, a film-noir styled outing was released in 1949, and in 1974 Robert Redford and Mia Farrow appeared in a Francis Ford Coppola scripted form which is arguably the most famous adaptation to date.  Suffice to say though previous attempts at bringing ‘The Great Gatsby’ to life, which also include a hip-hop version titled ‘G’ released in 2002, have never been as ambitious as Baz Luhrmann’s current incarnation.

Managing to modernize Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ in a manner no other director has come close to matching, surely something like ‘Gatsby’ would be a breeze for a director who strives himself on filming outside the box, right?  Proceeding with caution into the film off of less-than-stellar reviews following its Cannes Film Festival opening, I was expecting it to be one of those divisive experiences and maybe with my expectations lowered I could come to enjoy Luhrmann’s unique vision.  I like to think I have an open mind when viewing films, and I can appreciate a bold vision as much as the next audience member, but as I sat there watching what was unfolding in front of me I found myself experiencing an emotion I was not expecting: boredom!

Though Baz Luhrmann has never been a flawless filmmaker, he at least manages to inject his projects with some life force that keeps the engine running; here it seems all his cylinders are empty.  It starts off promising enough, minus the relatively gaudy framing device that opens the film with Tobey Maguire’s bond trader Nick Carraway telling his story to a doctor in a sanatorium, as our senses are on indulgence-overload as the dizzying, montage-like editing recalls classic Warner Bros. melodramas and the hyper-stylised, though decidedly artificial exteriors prove an absolute visual treat.  It’s all so over-the-top, but its Luhrmann doing what he does best and, admittedly, the wild energy that consumes the first half hour is quite intoxicating.

By this mark we’ve heard much about the elusive Gatsby but are yet to see him, so when Carraway is invited to the latest Gatsby party, something the fabulously wealthy war vet is infamous for, the audience, much like Carraway, wait in baited breath to get a glimpse and his ultimate reveal is perhaps the films pinnacle moment.  Leonardo DiCaprio, with his piercing blue eyes and impeccably tailored suit, slowly reveals himself amongst a backdrop of fireworks in what is an undeniably one of the finest shots put to camera.  But once the partying ends and the predominantly hip-hop inspired soundtrack recedes, ‘The Great Gatsby’ shocks with its hollow stance.  Much of the dialogue is lifted verbatim so it’s tough to critique Lurhmann on not staying faithful to the material, and the story itself still holds up in today’s standards so where did it all go so wrong?

DiCaprio seems perfect for Gatsby, and his initial moments in the film appear effortless, but as the story progresses and the spectacle novelty wears thin so too does the actor’s promise.  The character of Gatsby is a mystery to all those around him, and when he eventually exposes himself as a lovelorn simpleton his masculinity deteriorates, and the situation isn’t made better with Gatsby constantly referring to others as “old sport”, a phrase that grates more and more with each uttering.  Maguire doesn’t come off any better, a real shame considering the character of Carraway is perhaps even more important than Gatsby himself.  Nick claims that he was contemptuous of almost everyone and everything other than Gatsby, but in Maguire’s hands this is never convincingly displayed.  His doe-eyed innocence might work in the initial stages of experiencing the glamorous Gatsby lifestyle, but as Nick is supposed to be somewhat of a cynical character Maguire’s blandness fails to connect.  Perhaps the biggest misfire is Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchannan, Nick’s cousin and the great love of Gatsby’s existence.  Mulligan is a fine actress, but she never seems to bond with her characters obsession with Gatsby, and even more fatal is the non-existent chemistry that she shares with DiCaprio.

The supporting cast prove stronger with homegrown star Joel Edgerton and Australian newcomer Elizabeth Debicki shining brightest.  As Daisy’s lecherous husband Tom, Edgerton consumes the role with conviction whilst Debicki is absolutely striking as the cynical Jordan Baker, a famous golfer who remains unattainable to all would-be suitors.  Isla Fisher also gets a look in as Tom’s mistress Myrtle, and though she isn’t terrible in the role per se, the ditzy shtick she once again pushes is becoming increasingly old.

Giving such a negative review to something like ‘The Great Gatsby’ feels wrong as its evident Luhrmann really put his heart and soul into it, but whatever was there just didn’t merge together right.  Being such a scant book the running time of 140 minutes isn’t helping proceedings either, and as pretty as it all is to look at, vision without rhythm doesn’t sustain long.  Fitzgerald’s book perhaps belongs best left alone, as sometimes there are certain things that can only work on the page, and now, more than ever, this seems to be the case.

My rating 2/5 (Whatever Gatsby is, it isn’t great)







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