Movie Review: The (Not Entirely) Great Gatsby
Director Baz Luhrmann prefers style to substance. Through extravagant CGI and catchy music, Luhrmann brings (part of) the roaring twenties back to life in The Great Gatsby. The story centers on a man of mystery who uses wealth and a budding friendship to get back the love of his life from five years prior. The “Great American Novel” by F. Scott Fitzgerald emphasizes the emptiness of elegance and blurred impossible dreams, and bringing that to screen successfully proved increasingly difficult.
In the beginning we are introduced to a boyish Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a patient in a sanatorium, recounting the tale of the summer of 1922. His doctor (Jack Thompson) advises him to write his story as a means of therapy. From there his story becomes the narration, which is a whole new beginning to Gatsby, and can be seen as an easy way out of getting Fitzgerald’s words to screen.
Nick is making his way as a Wall Street bonds salesman in the pretentious West Egg. Across the bay (a computer-generated bay, at that) live his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton). Edgerton could have been doing a Streetcar’s Stanley Kowalski impression the entire time, while Mulligan’s Daisy is not much more than an unchanging ingénue. Next door to Nick is the Gatsby mansion.
As seen in the trailer, much of the attraction to the movie is due to the party scenes. Luhrmann committed to his vision of grandeur and brings the audience on an amusement park ride as the Gatsby galas commence. Though colorful and full of movement, the parties resemble Project-X with more Beyoncé and foxtrotting. Hundreds of extras don costume designer Catherine Martin’s vision of extraordinary 1920’s fashion. To no surprise, as Jay-Z curiously scored the movie, characters are popping champagne to hip-hop laced with Gershwin. At this time the audience is yearning for more substance, or Gatsby himself.
About a half hour in, Mr. Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is dramatically revealed. His cunning smile is only emphasized with the trumpets screaming and fireworks going off in the background. At face value, you may take DiCaprio’s level of sophistication and style as the perfect mysterious millionaire, but he is constantly changing. Even his accent does not seem to stay the same. He portrays a much more insecure, naïve title character, throwing the towel in on confidence. His deliverance of the famous “old sport” becomes nauseating the more Gatsby’s self-taught pompousness is revealed. “I didn’t want you to think I was just some nobody,” Gatsby tells Nick, a more pertinent line, which just may be of the most justifying lines of the film.
After an hour of boozer gossip and revelry, the film proceeds with a much more silent significance once Daisy and Gatsby are reunited. The lavish distractions have simmered and more climactic moments occur as we see a little more into the characters. Gatsby and Daisy continuing their love affair allows the film to include more of the well-advertised soundtrack in essentially music video format. As seen in his 2001 film Moulin Rouge!, dramatic slow-motion and sweeping camera movements are key in the Australian director’s style. Between each solidified scene, notable Fitzgerald lines are thrown into quickly cut montages as if to say, “look, we read the book!”
Two actors were able to commit to their roles in a few short scenes. Elizabeth Debicki’s Jordan Baker distracts from the Daisy-Gatsby world as a love interest of Nick, while the curious associate and confidante Meyer Wolfshiem (famous Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan) reveals Gatsby’s shady business side, allowing DiCaprio to show a little more versatility.
“They’re a rotten crowd… you’re worth the whole damn bunch put together,” Nick reassures Gatsby, though not entirely convincing. DiCaprio’s hopeless romantic is neurotic and spiraling downward, for he believes that extravagance and showiness will win over Daisy for good despite the eminent blood-born difference. Baz Luhrmann is a bit of a Jay Gatsby.
For those who want the words of Fitzgerald to permeate through their bodies, this may not be the chance. By the end of the two hours and twenty-three minutes, the 3D may leave the audience dizzy, but very satisfied if they simply enjoy a visual circus. The film itself is an extravaganza, and if superb acting and depth could not be offered, at least a whole new level of cinematography is.
The film is an empty spectacle that mirrors the materialistic theme of the novel, but ultimately it lacks in genuineness in just about every aspect. The Great Gatsby is more than just a bold jazz-age story of lost love. A story set in the roaring twenties does not always mean glitter, and glitter does not always amount to talent.