The Movie Waffler New Release Review - The Great Gatsby | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - The Great Gatsby

One of America's literary treasures gets Luhrmannized.

Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire, Amitabh Bachchan, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher

In 1922, Wall Street bondsman Nick Carraway (Maguire) rents a small house on Long Island, across a bay from his cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan), and next door to the palatial home of an extravagant millionaire, Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio). Carraway learns that Gatsby and Daisy have a romantic history, and after making the former's acquaintance, decides to help reunite the two. Standing in the way is Daisy's husband, Tom (Edgerton), a man of "old money" stock who disapproves of Gatsby's self-made ways.
The Great Gatsby. In 3D. Just think about that for a second or two. The fact it doesn't sound ridiculous tells you where Hollywood finds itself in 2013. We now accept movie concepts that sound like one of Tim Robbins' crass ideas from 1992's 'The Player'. Two decades later, Altman's film has become prophetic, as Hollywood descends shamelessly into self parody. I guess we should be thankful Luhrmann has shown restraint, having resisted the urge to turn Fitzgerald's most famous character into a vampire hunter. Otherwise, this is very much a Luhrman speakeasy, one which will have you calling for cinematic prohibition.
The Australian director should be buried in a time capsule, marked "Hollywood, early 21st Century". Over his short career he's committed several cultural atrocities, with a film-making style that delivers crassness in spades. It makes sense he should make a movie about the American dream, as he's proof of the concept's existence. If Luhrmann can make it, surely anyone can? His films are to history and literature what that great cultural shame of the twenties, the minstrel show, was to Jazz; designed to pander to a class of cretin who really doesn't deserve such acknowledgement.
His latest atrocity continues on the tradition, but now he finds himself in the era of his protege, Joe Wright, who last year out-Luhrmanned the Aussie with his disgustingly moronic 'Anna Karenina' adaptation. He rises to the challenge with the aplomb you'd expect, though with slightly more respect for American literature than Wright displayed for its Russian cousin. This respect is, ironically, one of the film's biggest problems. Taken as a simple narrative, Fitzgerald's novel is pretty unremarkable, it's his prose style which gives it such a respected place in history. Rather than translating this into cinematic prose, Luhrmann simply puts the author's words on screen, literally. Vast chunks of the novel are heard through Maguire's voiceover while the words appear on screen, words which Luhrmann is clearly in love with. The voiceover, as is usually the case, is completely unnecessary, simply describing what we can see for ourselves on the screen. We don't need Maguire to tell us Gatsby is an extravagant fellow when we're seeing a party of a scale that would put the opening night of Studio 54 to shame. The effect is like listening to an audiobook while watching MTV on mute.
The movie's quieter moments, of which there are scant few, give a glimpse as to how a straightforward adaptation could have worked, despite the dull narrative, as DiCaprio and Mulligan are fantastic in their brief moments together. The same can't be said for the dull-as-ever Maguire, an actor whose stature is baffling to anyone who has the misfortune to watch one of his movies. Luhrmann fills the secondary roles with his Australian compatriots, Edgerton, Clarke and Fisher, all of whom give the worst American accents this side of a Beijing drama school's 'West Side Story' production.
For such a modest narrative, Luhrmann goes out of his way to render it unnecessarily complex. There's a strange disconnect between the audience and the uninvolving on-screen drama, like attending a lavish party you haven't been invited to and don't feel welcomed at. No doubt, sadly, Luhrman will host such parties in the future. We can castigate him with our reviews but it's a futile effort. Hollywood has left taste and integrity behind. We can but beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into Hollywood's golden past.

Eric Hillis