The Great Gatsby review

Review Ron Hogan 13 May 2013 - 05:47

Baz Luhrmann's take on The Great Gatsby finally arrives in cinemas. Ron's been along to check it out...

Baz Luhrmann turns his films into a carnival of excess. He's the Jay Gatsby of film, and his parties are his movies. A riot of colors, the soundtrack shrieking, set-designed to death, and beaten down with an array of camera tricks, swoops, dives, and bad digital matte shots, Gatsby is transformed into the cinematic equivalent of a Halloween night candy binge. It's all sugary sweet tastes and vivid color until the inevitable stomachache kicks in and it all comes right back up in a technicolor yawn of epic proportions.

Baz Luhrmann's movie is a Spinal Tap amplifier turned up to 11, and if you can't handle being buffeted by a violently loud score, foleyed sounds like hammer blows, and the queasiest camera movements since Cloverfield, then I suggest you stay home. Michael Bay wishes he could create sonic thunder like this. It is punishing to the ears, or at least it was in the theater I attended, and no less hard on the eyes.

I understand what Luhrmann is trying to do. By utilising his usual techniques and employing an army of choreographed dancers and revelers, he's trying to push out the idea that Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) throws a great party, but shot after shot and scene after scene of abject craziness from well-dressed Jazz Age gadabouts flailing and flopping to the rumble and bounce of a hip hop soundtrack can be a little much. He is a very flashy director who loves impressive transitions, but it's overwhelming visual stimuli, piling busy on busy to create a tableau akin to a writhing carpet of depravity.

Most of the experiments don't work (the CGI is terrible), but I actually think updating the soundtrack to a mush-mash of jazz and hip hop works much better than it actually has any right to. Both are the music of the young people, the music of rebellion and celebration. It's no wonder Jay Z saw fit to be an executive producer and contribute to the soundtrack; he probably sees a lot of Jay Gatz in himself. Both self-made men who pulled themselves up from poverty through illegal means (bootlegging and selling drugs) only to find themselves rubbing elbows with politicians, celebrities, and the super-rich by virtue of their massive fortunes and awesome parties.  

If there is one saving grace to The Great Gatsby, it is Leonardo DiCaprio. He is really a brilliant actor, and there is a wonderful undercurrent he keeps coming back to. There's the outward projection of the gracious host, or the confident success, and all the while under the surface is a deep layer of insecurity that is betrayed by the eyes, if nothing else. He smiles, but it never gets past his lips. He looks cool and confident, but his eyes betray his anxiety, his fear that he will be sniffed out for the fake that he is. In that sense, his expressions are as false as he is, and DiCaprio captures that brilliantly.

For the rest of the roles, it seems as though Baz Luhrmann went out and got the most obvious choices he could for them, and it shows. Carey Mulligan is a beautiful-looking Daisy, but she's not able to capture the manic highs and depressive lows that the character experiences; she's a bit too pensive and perhaps a little too nuanced and deep for what is a pretty void role. Joel Edgerton goes a bit too far in the other direction, taking Tom's brutishness and transforming that into his only real trait, bulldozing through scenes and eating scenery in a way that would make Al Pacino jealous. Tobey Maguire is a good choice for Nick, but he's burdened by an absolutely abominable framing device that really does not work with the rest of the movie and should have never made it past the first draft.

The only really non-obvious choice made was picking an unknown named Elizabeth Debicki to play Jordan Baker; she's a strikingly tall woman who both looks the part, moves in an authentically athletic way, and can act the role. She may be the breakout star of the film when all is said and done. Isla Fisher as Myrtle actually was a great bit of casting, thanks to the attitude Fisher was able to capture in her brief part, but she's already a well-known quantity.  The look of the cast is perfect, perhaps too perfect.

When Zack Snyder's Watchmen, a lot of viewers criticized the film for being too in love with the source material to make any changes, rendering it a mere clone of the original source material without a beating heart. The same can be said (and more accurately said) about the 2013 Gatsby. From a sheer spectacle point, Baz Luhrmann nails The Great Gatsby. His parties look like the lavish spectacles that they should be and for the first half of the movie, they're enough to keep the film interesting, if not good. However, the terrible framing device keeps popping up to deflate the film's tires and when Gatsby's parties give way to the love story, the film goes completely flat.

A very good cast and a great look, but with  no soul and the emotional depth of a high school book report, The Great Gatsby is a cinematic sugar high that leaves behind nothing but rotten teeth and a foul stomach.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan thinks that it is possible to have both style and substance in the same film, just not this film. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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I had an inkling that this would happen. Ol' Baz is great at spectacle, but the greatness of Gatsby is in the smaller moments, and I wasn't sure if this film would be able to capture that. It seems it hasn't.

J Gatz is an awesome rap name! DIBS!!!

That's two films now that I had been looking forward to, crushed by 'style over substance' reviews.

Gangster Squad, and now this.

Yeah, Daisy is where the film really started falling apart for me. The central tragedy of Gatsby is that he's pulling world's apart for a woman who, frankly, isn't even worth it, she's a vapid, shallow woman at the core of it. I'm not sure if it was in the script or the performance, but it seemed like someone was really overthinking her character and trying to add all this depth to it that just ain't there.

I'll wait for DVD, but there's an interesting point you make, where you say people complained about Watchmen being to in love with the source material. Well I bet had they not been, people will beg for it to be. You can't satisfy anyone anymore. The only way you can make people happy is to give them something to bitch about. Just like with comics everyone gets mad over story and stuff but it's like how many different stories are there for just a single character. X-men, uncanny x-men, astonishing x-men, ultimate x-men...etc. why is it such a problem to make anything anymore..because people don't want entertainment they want something they can go on the Internet and complain about, to boost they're own ego. Movie and Television reviews have just become hipster forums for everyone to act like an elitist prick.

The over-the-top presentation of characters and scenes in the opening part of the film was justified because we are experiencing these things through the eyes of the sensitive, naive and susceptible Nick Caraway. Later in the film Tom Buchanan's is portrayed more realistically.
The best moment in the film is the climactic introduction of Gatsby at the party as he turns around to greet Nick; DiCaprio's expression and demeanor perfectly match the verbal description Nick is expressing in a voice-over.

I'm probably the most easy going movie viewer of all time, and I didn't enjoy the movie one bit. It just.. Wasn't good. Wasn't well crafted. Wasn't enjoyable.

I've never seen original Great Gatsby before, so I'm not really influenced by anything along those lines. I'm also not a movie critic.. Or an easy swayed hipster. Just a regular person who plain old didn't enjoy a movie. I didn't go in looking for something to complain about, I went in looking to be entertained - it did not supply this, because I genuinely don't feel it was a very good movie.

Seriously, don't try so hard to categorise and label everyone with an opinion. It's weird.

Several scenes tried to make blacks feel as if they were wealthy in the 20's, which is laughable. Another scene made a black man look childlike "i saws a big yellow car Sir, I seens IT!" And the hoochie momma with stained arm pits, wtf was that? You think a rich white guy would have that at his parties in the 20's lol. Terrible. Just leave blacks out of it, no need to patronize them; they prob know its stupid (cue the sports car in the 20's rolling by with blacks drinking tubs of moet)

I absolutely disagree! But then I imagine it's all about preference and partiality. I think that Luhrmann captivated the excess and decadence extraordinarily well - yes, at points I felt claustrophobic with all the excess - but wasn't that Fitzgerald's objective? I think Luhrmann has done Fitzgerald proud. (And I did not even see the movie in 3D).

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