Review by Joseph Hagen
With a rich 1920s landscape to play within, a very capable list of actors, an award-winning visual director, a hip soundtrack, and material that everyone is required to read in high school, The Great Gatsby has all of the ingredients of pure filmmaking genius and against all odds, grasps failure from the jaws of success.
It is hard to know where to start when a movie is such a big failure in so many different ways as is The Great Gatsby. Based on the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, screen writer and director Baz Luhrmann hacks apart, distorts concepts, over-stylizes visuals, makes poor choices with music, pulls bad performances from good actors and transforms quality material into long-winded pretentiousness.
A lack of quality conceptual decision-making haunts Luhrmann’s film making process. It is unclear if Jay Gatsby, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a mysterious figure that no one has ever seen, or the most popular person in New York. Is he plastered in the headlines of every newspaper or is he a hermit that stays locked up in a corner room of his palatial mansion? Instead of being a cool, sexy, smart and mysterious war vet, Gatsby is transformed into a lovesick puppy dog with little wits and a lack of Don Draper (from Madmen) “cool.”
Across the board, this film reduces and distorts classic literary characters and their relationships to their lowest denominator. Daisy, played by Carey Mulligan, is depicted (oddly) as a love torn sap of a woman with a little of the selfish ignorance that embodies America during the 1920s. From the beginning, her relationship with Gatsby has all of the cheese of a romantic comedy and progresses into a nonsensical mash-up of lost opportunities for conveying REAL depth and a commentary for the time period.
Another poor choice is beginning and ending the film with long-winded voice-overs from the un-voice-over-worthy voice of Tobey Maguire, the film not only stumbles out of the gate, but trips 30 minutes before the end and is the visual and auditory equivalent to nails on a chalkboard by the final three minutes. These silly sequences yielded more laughter than the attempted visual “candy.”
If you are a bibliophile, this film will be unsatisfactory and quite possibly infuriate you. If you are a person that has never read the book and has no idea what it is about, this film will be so boring and silly that you will possibly be infuriated. If you are prone to motion sickness (as I am), this film might make you physically sick with its fast zooms and cheesy visuals and quite possibly infuriate you.
A complete disaster The Great Gatsby is an example of unfocused film making, unnecessary visual effects, silly music choices and a lost opportunity at conveying classic material to a modern audience.