Great in glitz only
Generally film critics love directors like Baz Luhrmann, who pours his heart and soul into every frame of his films (“Moulin Rouge,” “Australia,” “Romeo + Juliet”). There’s nothing lazy about his vision or direction and his films always look dazzling, like watching a feature length kaleidoscope of kinetic grandeur. Like Luhrmann’s previous work, “The Great Gatsby” features amazing costumes, vibrant set design, trendy musical impulses and A-list actors who look great doing nothing.
But something gets lost in the adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic commentary on the excesses and decadence of the roaring 20s. In a word, that missing ‘something’ is a plot.
Tobey Maguire is Nick, the aspiring writer and bond salesman who peradventure rents a small cottage next door to the enigmatic Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious millionaire known to throw lavish parties at his massive mansion near Long Island that even he doesn’t attend. Soon, Gatsby will learn Nick is related to his old flame Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) with whom Gatsby was once in love. Gatsby uses Nick in the hope of reigniting love’s passion – even though Daisy is now married to womanizer Tom (Joel Edgerton).
The biggest challenge for viewers will be to get through the film’s first hour, which feels like an extended preface that has Nick prattling on about this reclusive Gatsby guy and his legend, which is never really explained. In fact, few things are really explained, but the movie seems to pop—especially in 3D, which is how the film should be seen, if at all—once DiCaprio’s magnificently appointed Gatsby and Mulligan’s seductively vulnerable Daisy enter the scene.
There are lots of long looks, dreamy gazes, and one hypnotic green light at the other end of the bay that transfixes Gatsby, but not much of what anyone would call substance.
Fitzgerald had a terrific literary style that wasn’t appreciated until after his death. Since several other films have failed in their attempt to do justice to “Gatsby’s’’ classic reputation, Luhrmann can’t be faulted much for struggling to bring depth to what ultimately is a glitzy soap opera tragedy.
For those who find most summer blockbuster fare to be one long series of silly superhero sagas, mindless action flicks, or dumbed-down comedies, then “The Great Gatsby” offers a beautiful if shallow alternative.
Truthfully, that means “The Great Gatsby” will likely struggle to find a large audience, but it won’t be for lack of ambition or style.
Rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language.