Director: Baz Luhrmann
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Carey Mulligan
Run Time: 143 minutes
Release: May 16
With all the glitz and glamour of a furtive greed-hog, Luhrmann’s whining rendition of The Great Gatsby dives whimpering into the shallow end of the adaptive scale. Carving his name childishly into the roll call of well-wishers that have come before him, the director attacks Fitzgerald’s triumphant novella with the vacuous zeal usually attributed to a tacky music video.
It would seem, at this late stage in the game, that we’re all familiar with the 1926 plot. For those attempting to arrive fashionably late to this soirée: the party is over. Nonetheless, it is the story of Nick (Maguire), transported to the highballing consumption of 1920s New York. Relinquishing his non-existent career as a writer, he endeavours to chase stocks and bonds on Wall Street. Enter cousin Daisy (Mulligan), effortlessly wed to “old money” Tom Buchanan (Edgerton). Residing across the water from his cousin, Nick busies himself on West Egg with intrigue and fascination regarding his mysterious “new money” neighbour, Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio). What unfolds is the impatient cliff-note of a much beloved tale: identity, modernisation, withered retrospect and sorrowful satire.
What should culminate in a tempered unfolding of social satire and ceaseless regret, is left waning in the tepid waters of pop-culture under Luhrmann’s guidance. Far from Jack Clayton’s 1974 resolve, this film lathers on the glamour and computerises the set, leaving an empty feeling where Fitzgerald’s dark and contemplative prose should cut deep with sentiment. Alas, the film’s strong suits are not found in the performances. DiCaprio ritualistically toys with the pleasures of playing the mystery of Gatsby, while Maguire seems an apt but stale choice for Carraway in execution. Unfortunately, yet predictably, Mulligan proves out of her depth, blustering her way through a verbose presentation of Daisy’s confused melancholy, attempting to relinquish the indifference endlessly explored in her more contemporary back catalogue. Surprisingly, Edgerton presents the most convincing and enjoyable performance as bigoted Tom; swaggering from the outset, comfortable in his pettiness.
Aside from the strenuous and flagrantly ill-mannered post-production work, Gatsby’s central flaw is its impatient desire to juxtapose an analytic narrative with contemporary ‘swag’. With Jay Z (that’s right) as executive producer on this sinking party boat, the film is saturated in paper-thin CG style, and a soundtrack that would be more at home on the finale of an MTV reality show. What little sway the actors have over the pacing of their performances is drowned out by the ironic emptiness of the filmmaking; the desire for pomp and flair makes the original satire and tragedy incredibly difficult to remember, let alone gel into filmic adaptation. In the climactic hotel room scene, the audience are given a firsthand example of just how little this production cares for subtlety with DiCaprio exploding into the camera and out of character.
Lost in a hurling wave of its own grandiosity, Luhrmann’s film actively forgets its roots and thus its place. With panhandled allusions to a narrow psychoanalytic reading, line delivery lost outside of the necessary circumstance, and a disgraceful pastiche of on-screen text whenever they want to drive home a memorable line from the book, The Great Gatsby is nothing like what it once was or should ever be.