Mixed reviews for The Great Gatsby: a jaw-dropping evocation of the roaring '20s or a flapper flop?
Tuesday 07 May 2013
We have been waiting for what seems like an inordinately long time for Baz Luhrmann's film adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's greatest novel starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Carey Mulligan.
It hits our screens this Friday and some of the preliminary reviews are in. The verdict? A mix. But surprisingly, for a film which would not seem to benefit in an obvious way from the 3D treatment, most reviewers agree it is affecting.
This enormous production begins by being over-the-top and moves on from there. But, given the immoderate lifestyle of the title character, this approach is not exactly inappropriate, even if it is at sharp odds with the refined nature of the author's prose. Although the dramatic challenges posed by the character of narrator Nick Carraway remain problematic, the cast is first-rate, the ambiance and story provide a measure of intoxication and, most importantly, the core thematic concerns pertaining to the American dream, self-reinvention and love lost, regained and lost again are tenaciously addressed.
Don't believe the hate. The Great Gatsby is not a terrible film; indeed, it's a surprisingly affecting one. I'm no Luhrmann apologist. I'm one of those who thought Moulin Rouge was silly and overrated. As for his indigestible Australia from 2008, well, at least the continent itself survived. Yet I found myself pulled into the emotional world of Luhrmann's Gatsby, despite only a couple of really outstanding performances and an in-your-face phoniness to the imagery which the film wears as a badge of honor. In translating F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel about the 1920s, Luhrmann turns it into an indictment of conspicuous consumption and the erosion of the human spirit that inevitably results.
It comes as little surprise that the Aussie auteur behind the gaudy, more-is-more spectacles “Moulin Rouge” and “Australia” has delivered a “Gatsby” less in the spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel than in that of its eponymous antihero — a man who believes bejewelled excess will help him win the heart of the one thing his money can’t buy. Cinema audiences can prove as fickle and elusive as Daisy Buchanan, too, but it’s a fair bet that a starry cast (and soundtrack) and sheer curiosity value will power this Warner/Roadshow co-production to career-best box office numbers for Luhrmann (a record currently held by “Australia,” at $211 million), if not quite enough to justify its supposed $127 million budget.
The Great Gatsby offers its occasional breathless moments, when we can't quite believe that Luhrmann and his talented crew are going to turn this novel into a soaring, candy-coloured phantasmagoria, but once his agenda of swooping camera movements and gleaming roadsters and anachronistic music takes full hold, there's nothing left to fall back on — not even Fitzgerald's prose, much of it quoted directly throughout, is enough to keep this adaptation from feeling like a stunningly expensive advertisement for the Brooks Brothers collection of "Gatsby"-inspired duds.
Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” is the first must-see film of Hollywood’s summer season, if for no other reason than its jaw-dropping evocation of Roaring ’20s New York — in 3-D, no less. Given the director’s penchant for visual bombast and the superhero-sized budget at his disposal, it’s also surprisingly satisfying as a dramatization of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s classic novel — thanks to stellar work by Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role and Tobey Maguire as his neighbor and only true friend, Nick Carraway.
The mistakes begin with the narrative framing device. In the book, Nick has gone home to the Midwest after a bruising time in New York; everything he tells us of Gatsby and Daisy and the rest is a wondering recollection. Luhrmann and his frequent collaborator, the screenwriter Craig Pearce, have turned the retreating Nick into an alcoholic drying out at a sanatorium. He pulls himself together and, with hardly any sleep, composes the entire text of “The Great Gatsby.” He types, right on the manuscript, “by Nick Carraway.” (No doubt a manuscript of “Lolita by Humbert Humbert” will show up in future movie adaptations of Nabokov’s novel.) The filmmakers have literalized Fitzgerald’s conceit that Nick wrote the text—unnecessarily, since, for most of the rest of the movie, we readily accept his narration as a simple voice-over. Doubling down on their folly, Pearce and Luhrmann print famous lines from the book as Nick labors at his desk. The words pop onto the screen like escapees from a bowl of alphabet soup.
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