by Adam Riske
The Great Gatsby is a movie where the director’s vision is at odds with the source material and an earnest cast. It reminds me of Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables in that way. Credit to Baz Luhrmann for really going for it, as he always does. It’s just that his take on "going for it" is often tone deaf and always excessive. He’s a lot of imagination with no discipline.
The main criticism of The Great Gatsby has to do with the way it is shot: this is the first movie I can recall that I saw in 2D that felt like it was in 3D (may G-D have mercy on your soul if you actually see it in 3D). It looks like The Aviator if it were shot in High Frame Rate, which makes the actors feel removed from their surroundings. There’s also a lot of motion blurs near the beginning, also a side effect of the 3D. It’s most pronounced when Luhrmann is tracking or dissolving into new shots. It’s a major problem, because the camera is almost never still during the first half of the movie.
The anachronistic use of hip-hop music is random and unnecessary. It’s clear the intent is to modernize the material, but why not then set the story in present day? As it is, the music distracts more than anything. Sure, it injects energy, but in a way where you’re just questioning if Luhrmann understands the material or rather is making The Great Gatsby plot line fit his usual parade.
In terms of themes, the book is definitely in part a critique on the decadent lifestyle of the wealthy and of classicism overall, but that never comes across in the movie. By the end, Carraway is supposed to be sickened by it all but it never feels that way. It seems thrown in because it’s a plot beat from the story. All of the themes that stuck with me from the movie were related to romance; too bad the romance is pretty flat due to an utter lack of any chemistry between Leonard DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan. Aspects of the plot -- like Gatsby being an obsessive and a criminal -- are touched on but glossed over.
Unlike, say, Michael Bay, I think Baz Luhrmann’s heart is in the right place. Both are artists of strong worldviews and whatever material they tackle ends up being more about the creator than the creation. The problem with Baz is that he’s sort of inept at telling a story and for a man so in love with romances, his romances never come to life. I hope he has a really good movie in him one of these days. I don’t know. Shouldn’t he have had one by now?