The summer season is one marked by big-budget special effects, high-octane action, and laugh-out-loud comedies, all meshed together in four months where everyone in Hollywood looks to cash in. In these four months, studios are not always looking for critical praise of their films but for high grosses and a film like The Great Gatsby is a great example of this summer conformity. It’s got flashy 3-D effects, an all-star cast, and a soundtrack with all the synth pop of a warehouse rager, but unfortunately, when weaved together in a two and a half hour film, it is nothing but a great mess.
I have to start by saying that I really wanted to like this film, as, despite his often flashy and over-the-top technique, Baz Luhrmann remains a unique and fascinating filmmaker. His visionary style seemed like the perfect match for something like Gatsby, as the source material is filled with its own flair and romantic idealism that Luhrmann feeds on so often in his films. In fact, between the depressed narrator and the passé soundtrack that features Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey, some scenes from Gatsby look as if they were pulled right from Moulin Rouge! However, just as Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway points out to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby, “you can’t repeat the past” and in this instance, Luhrmann really can’t, as it will only lead to a monotonous and uninspired interpretation of an American classic.
To be fair, The Great Gatsby is perhaps one of the hardest novels to bring to the silver screen and many have tried and failed to create a successful adaptation, so Luhrmann had his hands full with this project. Luhrmann can’t totally be blamed either, as he was extremely truthful to the book to the point where physical dialog from the page could literally be seen on the screen. The CGI effects were not that terrible either, but rather added a romantic element to the world. As for the choppy and almost seizure-inducing editing, it’s to be expected when going into a Baz Luhrmann film. The issue with Luhrmann’s interpretation is his vast romantic outlook that was laid out all over the screen from the flashy soundtrack to the blatant imagery. The point of Fitzgerald’s novel was to break down the American Dream as flawed and unrealistic, but that incredibly important theme takes a backseat to the illustrious parties and passionate affair between Gatsby and Daisy.
With a leading man like Leonardo DiCaprio, accompanied by the underappreciated Tobey Maguire and the gorgeous Carey Mulligan, it seemed like the perfect cast to pull-off the iconic characters featured in The Great Gatsby. Unfortunately, this is not really the case. DiCaprio is great as always and looks ten years younger, fitting well into Gatsby, who is suppose to be in his early thirties. After seeing Leo play the maniacal Calvin Candie in Django Unchained, it was nice to see him play someone so charismatically optimistic and kind-hearted. Maguire, on the other hand, has trouble as Nick Carraway, a character truly infatuated with the mysterious Gatsby. He never completely captures the innocence and disparagement of Carraway and instead plays him as a bit of a sad-sack pawn used in Gatsby’s game, always in the background and completely indifferent. Putting him in a sanitarium where he writes out his story while being watched over by a cutesy psychiatrist was also too excessive. Despite this mischaracterization, the worse offense is the miscasting of Carey Mulligan as Daisy. Mulligan is a wonderful actress who is really breaking out, but she does not have the presence to thrust life into Daisy and her chemistry with DiCaprio is abysmal, which really brings down the film. As for the supporting cast, Joel Edgerton plays a perfect Tom Buchanon, with a powerful slyness that makes you squirm in your seat, but Isla Fisher goes from unrefined to boring in her sub-par portrayal of Myrtle.
The Great Gatsby was an ambitious project from the beginning, as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic has been adapted many times before, but not to the success it deserves. It will no doubt be very successful at the box office as it has the eye-popping 3-D effects and the sexy cast that draws audiences to the theater, but it will definitely not gain the appreciation that the novel has garnered over the past 90 years. Unfortunately it will merely be a passing fad for viewers who will see it once and forget about it the next day, falling into the heap of other dull adaptations of the American classic.
Review by Harrison Richlin