Monday 20 May 2013

Review: The Great Gatsby

Year: 2013
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Screenplay: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton

Synopsis is here

The Great Gatsby gracelessly bounds into screens hoping to bowl you over with its brash, over egged delivery. It's loud, proud and happily declares itself in every scene. Much like the other works of director Baz Luhrmann, Gatsby takes a headstrong, music video approach to its material. Lavish long curtains bellow in the air, cameras swoop and swoon as mass parties Charleston away to modern hip hop and RnB. 

Despite its jazz age setting, The Great Gatsby reminds me more of a 90's hip hop video more than anything. To situate F Scott Fitzgerald's classic take of the deterioration of the American dream with more modern sensibilities is understandable and considering Luhrmann's previous works, near justified. Unfortunately 2013 Gatsby; despite the modern parallels it could lean on, is less about the damnation of decadence and all about the melodrama. Much of Luhrmann's techniques do much to heighten the romantic triangle that lies within the film. However the metaphor that lies within Fitzgerald's work is quickly lost in favour of the director's own excess.

Instead of a slow intoxication of the era, we are slapped across the face with hectic hip hop editing, over arching performances and mishandled music choices. I would be the first to defend the likes of Jay-Z in a modernisation of the material. The rappers lyrics and lifestyle do a certain amount of overlapping with the jazz age wildness. However the choices placed, often jar with the party scenes we witness. Unlike previous jukebox collages put together by Luhrmann, the mixture does little to gel. 

The film is so busy submerging us with information overload (remixed modern music, crowded visuals, over exposition at every turn) that we often lose track of the characters of the piece. From Gatsby to Carraway every character is painted in broad gloss, when it's clear the more could and should be brought from them. Such motives were fine when we were given the star crossed ciphers that occupied Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet, as the sources were suited. Gatsby keeps hinting that more could be done, yet Luhrmann seems more attracted to the richness of riches than anything else. 

We gain little from wide eyed straight man Tobey Magurie who delivers everything with little nuance. Mulligan fairs better, bringing a deceptive sweetness to Daisy while DiCaprio and Edgerton wrestle well with Luhrmann's outrageousness and attack it with gumption. Yet despite all its fancy posing and posturing, there's little satirical eye to the events. The film quickly descends to a simple romance that was explored stronger within Luhrmann's earlier works. The film is so busy visually that it gleefully slaps the words of the novel on the screen for no other reason than constant re-alliteration (and perhaps because it looks fancy in 3D). 

One has to look hard for moments of wry sharpness through all its grand gesturing. But witness a party scene in which Nick Carraway is introduced to the infamous Gatsby and gazes admirably at him while everyone is too busy glaring up at the fireworks. Gershwin plays in the background in what almost appears as a keen reference to Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979), a film with its own bittersweet (yet not as tragic) love triangle. It's a brief moment of intoxication. One that Gatsby could do a lot more with.