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Film & DVD

The not-so-Great Gatsby

Luhrmann infuses the Fitzgerald classic with lots of life but little soul

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Despite that muddying of meaning, Luhrmann’s film leaps to life in stunning fashion. The 3-D camerawork is admittedly more impressive during the CGI moments and less so during interior scenes, when out-of-focus foreground objects dominate the composition. Yet for all this amazing aesthetic, the movie projects little emotion. After all, when Gatsby’s dream dies, so dies the American Dream, but we can’t truly hear that death above Luhrmann’s cacophony of sight and sound.

DiCaprio is competent but can’t top Redford’s performance in the 1974 film. The latter imbued the role with class and an inexplicable mix of sadness and hopefulness. DiCaprio, especially in his first few scenes, often comes across as a spoiled buffoon, someone who thinks he is worthy of Daisy’s love simply because of the money he has made. That’s not the true Gatsby. The older film had its flaws too, often failing to show much life, but it did have more soul.

Daisy is practically an unplayable part, but Carey Mulligan does her best, outdoing Mia Farrow from the 1974 version. However, Joel Edgerton as her slimy husband, Tom, is invisible at times, lacking the passion, the naturalism and the slime of the Bruce Dern turn from the aforementioned adaptation. Tobey Maguire, as Nick, simply does what’s asked of him, which is also all that can be said for Sam Waterston, who played the part 39 years ago.

The characters that Luhrmann botches are Myrtle (Isla Fisher), with whom Tom is having an affair, and her husband, George (Jason Clarke). Buried almost entirely by the jazzy jumble of Lurhmann’s style, they never come to meaningful life, and that robs the finale of its emotional punch.

Luhrmann changes some minor details of the book, and that’s fine, as a film must live and breathe on its own. For instance, Daisy’s friend Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki) is almost completely excised, reduced from Nick’s summer girlfriend to his passing acquaintance. Other minor moments and characters, such as Gatsby’s father, are either de-emphasized or forgotten entirely, and that matters little, too. What does matter, unfortunately, is that Luhrmann’s pacing and editing are so erratic, especially in the first 40 minutes, that we never fully comprehend the characters. The director’s style works better here than in Romeo + Juliet, but not quite as well as in Moulin Rouge.

See the movie for what it is: an exciting, visual celebration of love, life and longing. But to truly understand Jay Gatsby, a haunted man who knew that “falling in love would change his destiny forever,” peruse the pages of the Fitzgerald classic.

So we beat on, boats against the current, still longing for the truly great Gatsby.

★★★ (out of 5 stars)

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