Baz Luhrmann’s adaption for the classic 1925 American Novel is close to being a great film, but it stumbles and trips over the burden of the source material and Luhrmann’s own limited ability. Full of elegance and indulgence, it is a spectacle to behold, but it’s also gluttonous and bloated. You’ll leave with that feeling you ate too much, a great meal that left you regretting the size of the plate.
The Great Gatsby centers on Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner who has moved to New York to try his hand at finance. He is lured into a lavish world by his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, however Carraway soon learns that behind Gatsby’s rich lifestyle lies obsession, madness, and tragedy. I confess I have not read the book, so can’t comment on how well the novel has been adapted, but Luhrmann’s vision is one well suited to a lavish lifestyle, the film is otherwise horrible edited and forgettable.
There is a deep layer of subtext to just about everything in this film, at times it feels larger than life but it does center itself quite strongly in simple human terms. The ever present green light and repeating sounds give much of the drama an eery undertone, as if to underscore the tragedy. It’s at these times the film shines, complex, character driven, and engaging. Unfortunately the pace is erratic, and the editing jumps and shifts in such sharply distracting ways. It can at times feel like a really long music video where all the aforementioned depth gives way to sights and sounds void of meaning.
Leonardo Di Caprio is absolutely engaging as Gatsby, he runs the gamut of emotions in this film and simultaneously winning over the audience while also painting himself as truly human. Luhrmann’s frenetic style often strangles him, but he deserves mention. Unfortunately Tobey Maguire as Carraway is void of any personality or presence and is the same character he was in Spiderman. Joel Edgerton and Elizabeth Deicki put in noble performances as Tom and Jordon, but Carey Mulligan is utterly forgettable as the leading lady Daisy. Despite Di Caprio’s best efforts she fails to match his passion with any kind of chemistry and for much of the film her face resembles a damsel in distress.
Their chemistry pretty much sums up the whole film, it’s just not convincing enough. For a story of such depth, with such wonderful dialogue, it’s all at times just a little boring. A great deal of this does come day to visuals too, it’s as bad at times as the Star Wars prequels. You can easily see a majority of the film is done with a green screen, and the digital effects stand out like a sore thumb. For a story that centers on human emotions, it often looks like a cartoon.
The Great Gatsby has its moments, true, it is an engaging story. However Luhrmann’s vision does just about everything it can to break you away from that wonderful story, and his cast doesn’t do much to compensate.