The Great Gatsby, the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel about romantic longing amid the extravagance of the Jazz Age, has landed in the dangerous hands of Australian director Baz Luhrmann. Fitzgerald fans, be very afraid.
The Great Gatsby, the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel about romantic longing amid the extravagance of the Jazz Age, has landed in the dangerous hands of Australian director Baz Luhrmann.
Fitzgerald fans, be very afraid.
Luhrmann, a one-time theatrical impresario, specializes in near-constant exaggerations and deliberate anachronisms to upend traditional genres with little spite or irony.He peppered the anti-musical Moulin Rouge! with scraps of contemporary pop songs and set Romeo & Juliet in southern Florida with cars and guns.
Surely, he would have to tone down his excessively hyper style to capture the tragic romanticism of the Fitzgerald novel. Or would he?
The latest Gatsby is crammed with the flashy artifice and kinetic overload of every Luhrmann assault. His camera constantly dips, dives and dances — whether or not the scene calls for gymnastics — and most of the cast members come off as models posing for fashion spreads rather than actors inhabiting troubled lives.
Fitzgerald’s story remains largely intact, though framed by a device in which narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) relates his experiences as therapy while being treated in a sanitarium for alcoholics.
Thus, Nick’s narrative takes us back to the summer of 1922, when he rented a Long Island cottage next to the sumptuous palace of the mysterious and newly rich Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Nick’s delight in being singled out by Gatsby as a friend is soon leavened by the revelation that Gatsby is using him to reignite his 5-year-old passion for Nick’s cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who is married to wealthy philanderer Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).
Luhrmann’s excess gets an appropriate workout during the elaborate party scenes, revved to a scale of vulgar overkill that even Fitzgerald might not recognize.
That leads to a structural problem of tone: After a first half in perpetual motion, the second half, with its focus on intimate drama, seems even slower and more sluggish than the proceedings warrant. Luhrmann expects the viewer to downshift the adrenaline after he has been ramping it up for more than an hour.
The film embraces Gatsby’s romantic optimism as pure and noble, not destructively naive. Even the reunion of the erstwhile lovers is played as situation comedy — all the better to bless Gatsby’s crusade.
DiCaprio poses his part attractively, although he can’t convince us that Gatsby did anything unsavory to make his fortune. Mulligan struggles to seem worthy of so much adoration, while Maguire is forced to gawk so often that his powers of insight seem unlikely. Edgerton makes the strongest impression by locating Tom’s unexpected depths of feeling.
Luhrmann has convoluted an artificially sweetened Gatsby for the digital age — in which the revelries are seen as inviting, not repulsive, and tragedy is mostly a matter of unfortunate circumstance.
What’s next for Luhrmann? I foresee his version of Waiting for Godot, complete with acrobats, jugglers, jet fighters and stampeding zebras — all presented in 4-D.