It’s colorful, it’s dynamic, it’s vibrant…it’s just not very good. Not sure what I expected, but originally I thought maybe Baz Luhrmann was the one to handle this most recent adaptation properly. I was correct in just one respect…the depiction of the wild party scenes. Loud, garish, over-the-top…I thought they worked in the trailers, and I was impressed with them in the film proper. But the entirety of the movie is so overloaded with phony-looking CGI, that, after a while, you might as well be watching something like “Thor”. And it’s exhausting. Of course, it also fails miserably in capturing the soulfulness of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved novella. Hey, it’s an uphill battle when you decide to mount a version of what some describe as the best American book of the twentieth century. And Luhrmann gets credit for the attempted climb. Hey, don’t forget that he breathed some youthful life into “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet” in 1996, and “Moulin Rouge!” became a Best Picture contender in 2001. So, sometimes Baz’s overheated style works marvelously. But then, of course, there is the resounding thud of 2008’s “Australia” to remind you that the shtick has its limitations. Now, “The Great Gatsby” confirms it, too.
The people bought it though, so Luhrmann can effectively say “eff you” to all of us naysayers. “Gatsby” was easily his greatest financial success with almost 350 million dollars earned at the worldwide box office. And I did appreciate Leonardo DiCaprio, as he made a fine Gatsby(although if the script called for him to say “old sport” one more time I was going to break something). Tobey Maguire isn’t a complete washout as Nick Carraway, but he’s still forgettable in the role. And Carey Mulligan, often one of our finest film actresses, seems miscast here. The fire required in the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy Miller is just not there. Joel Edgarton growls effectively as Tom, and Isla Fisher does make an impact as the tragic Myrtle Wilson. There is a period late in the film when Luhrmann calms all the pyrotechnics down, and you realize that he really did grasp the emotion of the novel and understands its hold atop classic literary fiction. He was simply the wrong director to bring a new interpretation to the screen. It’s BIG and it looks great(expect costume, make-up and production design nominations), but you’ll be beaten into submission until eventually pleading “make it stop!”. Multiple film adaptations of this story have occurred now and there’s still no clear winner. Next! Grade: C