Baz Luhrman’s cinematic adaptation of The Great Gatsby is hollow. The synthesised aesthetic strangles the dramatic weight of the story; and you’re left with fleetingly beautiful post cards of actors cosplaying as characters from one of America’s most iconic pieces of literature.
It’s the height of the roaring 20s, you’re dropped into moneyed Long Island with young writer Caraway (Tobey Maguire). His modest shack sits astride the palatial mansion of mysterious ‘new money’ poster boy Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Dicaprio). When he’s not throwing parties that would make Marie Antoinette blush, Carraway discovers that Gatsby has a secret connection with his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan).
Luhrman captures the sweaty jazz infused cultural melting pot of New York and its essential remix of monarchical structures and liberal progressive. The moments of pure ascension come as the pulsating modern score speaks the decadence of the past in a modern dialect. The party sequences with dance numbers, torrential confetti and champagne are intentionally eliciting ‘film clip’ disorientation. And they’re contrasted by the steamy celebrations in hot box Brooklyn apartments, or the sweltering filthy quarries on the outskirts of the city proper. Of course it’s not surprising that the director of Romeo and Juliet knows how to evoke intoxicating love on the screen. The shame for the style is that the period and the setting relied so heavily on CGI. Miami as a modern Verona in Romeo and Juliet or the ochre slate of timeless outback Australia has an organic texture that’s diluted in the barrage of pixels. In the moments where you can feel a physical space that’s not being noticeably altered with post production ‘ones’ and ‘zeroes’ the actors are allowed to get feel like they’re inhabiting the past; but they’re all too fleeting. It’s ambitious, it’s not a complete failure but the excess is excessive and the depth is in the 3D visuals more than it’s in the plot.
Macguire is such an insipid and frustrating shell of a character and he’s burdened with the task of guiding the audience through the story. His sleepy, dispassionate narration needed more of ANYTHING to be engaging. DiCaprio, despite looking the part, was a straight faced charlatan, infatuated with his own self image. The characters very foundations are laid upon a ‘house of cards’ in the form of Daisy (Mulligan). The fact that this ‘Great’ character falls for a beautiful but frustratingly aloof 1920s Anna Karenina Tom Buchanan old money playboy – Daisy’s adulterous partner – ends up looking like the admirable redemptive character instead of the villain of the piece.
As a total novice to the story, or any of the film adaptations this reviewer was left feeling alienated from a delusional diplomatic puppet in Gatsby, appeased by love lost while the puppet masters in the shadows capitalised from capitalism.
The Great Gatsby is Baz Luhrman’s visual tribute album to the novel; and it’s only in his filmmaking comfort zones that any of the essence of the text elevates beyond karaoke.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.