Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, based on the novel of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher
Running Length: 143 minutes
Synopsis: The Great Gatsby follows Fitzgerald-like, would-be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as he moves to New York City and takes up residence next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her philandering, blue-blooded husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Nick is drawn into the captivating world of the super rich, their illusions, loves and deceits.
Review: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is widely regarded as one of the most important American novels of the 20th Century, and largely considered unfilmable, with previous attempts not really hitting the mark. Unfortunately, despite being a very beautiful movie, Baz Luhrmann’s attempt is also a misfire, falling into a rare category of film where its parts are greater than its sum total.
If you’re looking for a visual spectacle, The Great Gatsby delivers in spadefuls in its first reels. In true Baz Luhrmann tradition, the party sequence is visually dazzling, and the use of 3D makes the entire experience feel even more surreal. The beautiful costumes (designed by the houses of Prada and Brooks Brothers), gorgeous jewellery (by none other than Tiffany & Co) and excellent set design and art direction makes the viewing experience an opulent, decadent and highly enjoyable one, reminiscent of the visual excess of Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge.
However, once the visual novelty wears out, there is very little to keep the viewer vested. Although the performances are mostly adequate (save Tobey Maguire’s terribly, terribly bland portrayal as Nick Carraway), none of the characters will be easy for audiences to identify with as they are essentially all flawed beings. Leonardo DiCaprio performs admirably as Gatsby, despite being forced (mystifyingly) to punctuate almost every sentence with “old sport”, and Carey Mulligan impresses in her small number of scenes, but many of the peripheral characters are nothing more than window dressing.
The pacing of the film is also very uneven, with parts of the movie being glacially deliberate and extremely out of step with the more exuberant sequences. The Great Gatsby would have benefited immeasurably with a more judicious edit and tighter running time. Luhrmann is respectful of the source novel, even quoting passages verbatim, but at times this just makes the film feel like an inferior knockoff of Luhrmann’s own Romeo + Juliet.
And, perhaps most surprisingly for a Baz Luhrmann film, even the visuals outlive their welcome. The 3D which was used to great effect in the first hour seems to have been forgotten in the second hour, and other than some terribly amateurish floating narrative text peppering the flashback sequences, there’s really nothing that makes 3D viewing experience significantly improved from the 2D one.
Baz Luhrmann should be given credit for attempting a project as difficult as The Great Gatsby, and there certainly are glimpses of genius in the way he approached the source material. However, this is a film that’s mired by a large number of small imperfections, frustratingly close to greatness yet falling short. It functions well as counter-programming to the summer blockbuster season, but isn’t exactly the breath of fresh air I was hoping to get from the film.
Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)