DIR: Baz Luhrmann • WRI: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce • PRO: Lucy Fisher, Catherine Knapman, Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Douglas Wick • DOP Simon Duggan • ED: Jason Ballantine, Jonathan Redmond, Matt Villa • DES: Catherine Martin • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan
Baz Luhrmann is an acquired taste. People either seem to relish his gawdy, ostentatious films with their overwrought emotional drama and slightly vapid characters or, well, despise him. There is little to no middle ground between the two. Therefore, when it was announced that he was to adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz-Age classic, there were many who felt it was the wrong choice. The novel is quite small in its length, but long on detail, opulence and themes. Luhrmann is no stranger to adapting great literary works, namely Romeo + Juliet, and has done successfully and with great inventivenesss. But with Great Gatsby, has he pushed the boat out too far? The novel isn’t like Romeo + Juliet. It has no need of reinvigoration or reinvention and exists firmly in its own right.
For those unfamiliar, Great Gatsby follows the doomed love affair of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). Narrated by Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), it tells the tale of Gatsby, a self-made millionaire who feigns aristocracy in order to win the heart of blue-blooded but married Daisy. Her husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) regularly cheats with Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher) and is an elitist thug. Gatsby schemes to steal Daisy away from Tom, but like all great romantic stories, it ends in tragedy. The film itself is a reasonable adaptation of the book and doesn’t veer too much from the source. Like everything else in the film, Maguire’s narration is heavy-handed and exaggerated beyond need. Some of the characters, Daisy in particular, feel underwritten and underdeveloped, however this fault should be aimed at the source as opposed to Luhrmann’s adaptation of it.
DiCaprio is working with familiar material here. He’s dashingly handsome, yet achingly vulnerable underneath it all. It’s slightly surprising to see him in this role considering he’s truly moved beyond pretty-boy roles – which this absolutely is. It’s not that he’s above the role or that he’s better than it, it’s just that he’s already covered this ground before. Tobey Maguire, as mentioned, is very much a wallflower throughout the film. Granted, his role in it is narrator and, as such, he isn’t supposed to put himself out there. Still, his performance is forgettable, but doesn’t draw attention to its flaws. Carey Mulligan does a decent job with her character, making her neither likeable or unlikeable. Instead, she is caught between two men who are intent on having her even it means destroying her. Joel Edgerton truly stands out in the role of egotistical and brutish Tom Buchanan. Given the right push, Edgerton can easily hold his own with any of the best that today’s acting talent has to offer.
Luhrmann’s direction is crazed and frenetic. Entire scenes are transformed into music videos with glittering special effects. Everything sparkles and dazzles, everything is more beautiful than one could possibly imagine. And yet, underneath it all, there is nothing. It is ultimately hollow. The performances across the board as so melodramatic that it’s difficult to take seriously. Luhrmann, of course, doesn’t know the meaning of the word subtlety and jettisons any attempt at keeping it steady. Even the small moments between Mulligan and DiCaprio aren’t allowed to breathe. The soundtrack is impressive, but it’s used to carry a scene along instead of the actors therein. Luhrmann makes no bones about the fact that his films are for a particular audience. Great Gatsby will undoubtedly be lionised by his fans / apologists, but everyone else will simply be exhausted by it.
Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details) 143 mins The Great Gatsby is released on 17th May 2013