Release Date: May 10th, 2013
Director: Baz Luhrmann
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Film Pulse Score: 5/10
Baz Luhrmann’s latest adaptation, which would’ve more appropriately been named The Not So Great, but Exceptionally Glittery Gatsby, puts a dizzyingly deco spin on the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald tale. But while the frantic glitz of Luhrmann’s signature visual style is not necessarily a betrayal of the original text, lackluster characters, erratic pacing, and a weak structure give this retelling of a tragic dreamer about as much depth as a Mardi Gras show.
If you had high expectations for this film, they will be immediately crushed within the first fifteen minutes. While Luhrmann’s hyper-kinetic style worked beautifully for films like Moulin Rouge, the back story and character introductions in the first act of Gatsby felt so rushed that it had to have either been because the studio was forced to cut down runtime or someone brought amphetamines to the editing room. Probably both. Either way, for trying to demonstrate the superficiality of an era, the high-speed extravagance is overkill. With no ironic details or distinctive characters to create a foundation for the story, the first act appears to be designed solely for the sake of showing off production value and selling the film’s soundtrack.
But don’t lose all hope yet. Luhrmann tones it down for the second half of the film, delivering incredible nuanced, exquisite visuals that might make you forgive him for the previous migraine-inducing blasts of glitter. With the pace slowed down, there is much more time to notice the elaborate costumes, striking colors, and highly detailed sets. Protagonist and narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) remains passive, as do the majority of the secondary characters, who never grow far beyond their initial blandness, but it is in the second half where Leonardo DiCaprio’s signature intensity begins to emerge.
DiCaprio’s performance captures every side of Gatsby’s complex character, convincingly displaying Gatsby as both a cool, charismatic swindler and a foolish, anxious, (and possibly nutso) dreamer. Even though a large part of the writing of Gatsby and Daisy’s romance consisted of one-liners that sounded like they could’ve been lifted from a Nicholas Sparks novel, the script is saved by McGuire’s perfectly balanced narration, which is also loyal to the beautiful language of the book.
The Great Gatsby is not a bad film, but for Fitzgerald and Luhrmann fans alike, there is no doubt that it might be one of the most disappointing films of the year. Somewhere in the push and pull between dizzying and dazzling there is some greatness to be found, but it is not enough to make the film worthy of its title.