I haven’t read the classics—and I have my reasons why—but this is not the post in which I’ll get into the whys and hows. Suffice to say that I didn’t know anything about this story other than that Baz Luhrmann was bringing his own take on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel to the big screen, complete with the Luhrmann flourishes of anachronistic music cues and lavish production design.
So when the movie was done, what I found was that this narrative—about a self-made man who sacrifices all for an ideal—is almost the blueprint for a certain kind of movie. I know Bollywood has made several of these, and Hollywood too.
This version of the narrative is handicapped I think by Mr. Luhrmann’s need for excess on screen. Sure it is visually dazzling to watch the director’s vision of what it must have been like in the roaring 20s but I feel like he already gave us a fully-realized, better-implemented vision of a decadent time in Moulin Rouge! So to repeat himself a dozen years later, right down to the epilogue that consists of a writer typing out the final pages of a narrative about a larger-than-life character offered much déjà vu.
It is really tough to dissect performances in a Baz Luhrmann movie because the filmmaking takes up so much of one’s mindspace that it is tough to isolate the characters from the backgrounds and atmosphere.
Carey Mulligan does a good job with Daisy Buchanan but I couldn’t help thinking that the set of the actress’s mouth gave her the appearance of someone who knows the script (and how this will all end), rather than a character whose actions are motivated by circumstances within the narrative.
The film employs the narrative device of a character recounting the life of another person and whereas Ewan McGregor’s Christian was in love with, and party to the life of Satine in Moulin Rouge!, Tobey Maguire is merely a spectator in the goings-on involving Daisy, her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), his mistress Myrtle (Isla Fisher) and the mysterious figure known as Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Mr. DiCaprio does a good job of disappearing into the character of Gatsby—a man with a past as storied as the parties he throws. And while Carraway might be the only one who learns a little of what ticks under Gatsby’s slick exterior, we are made aware—repeatedly—that a passionate heart beats within Jay Gatsby’s well-dressed person.
Final Analysis: I am glad I watched the movie but I cannot imagine that it is for everyone. I don’t know whether it was the addition of the third dimension that did this or whether time, technology and financing are to blame, but this movie looked a lot less visually ‘together’ than Mr. Luhrmann’s equally fantastical effort from 2001.
My Advice: If you have time to kill and are in the mood for a sensory assault—I don’t mean that in a bad way—then you might give this one a whirl. Actually, fans of the Bollywood-style melodrama might really get a kick out of this one.