Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Great Gatsby: Movie Review

The Great Gatsby: Movie Review

Cast: Leonardo di Caprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher
Director: Baz Luhrmann

So, with much pomp and ceremony, director Baz Luhrmann's take on F Scott Fitzgerald's book (and the fifth movie to be made since 1926) arrives.

It's late in the 1920s and on Long Island where we join Tobey Maguire's Nick Carraway, who's recovering in a sanitarium and recounting the story of millionaire playboy Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and how their paths crossed at the height of the roaring twenties.(1922 to be precise).

Carraway's cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) also shares a connection to Gatsby - five years ago, they were in love when he disappeared at war. So, she married Joel Edgerton's Tom Buchanan, and apparently moved on. But when Daisy reconnects with Gatsby, it throws all manner of spanners into the lavish works with Tom suspecting her of an affair, even though he's cavorting with another woman (played by Isla Fisher).

The Great Gatsby movie is all manner of spectacle and unfortunately, all lacking in real soul.

It starts off with real energy and sumptuous excesses as a visual symphony explodes before your very eyes. Using CGI and plenty of shots of a camera pulling away, Luhrmann sets a wonderfully evocative film as Tobey Maguire's haunted and laconic (almost stoned) voice-over plays out.

Through dizzying shots, Luhrmann cramming as many people as he can into any given party scene and ramping up an old school soundtrack with current musical sensibilities, his sense of delivery as a director borders on the OTT in places. Luxurious elegance crams every corner of every frame and opulence flows from the screen as the 3D use falls into place and the myth of the mysterious playboy Gatsby is fuelled. Plus Luhrmann uses lines from the text to sing out from the screen, which is evocative, innovative and respectful of the source material.

And yet, once the scene is set and the reveal of Gatsby himself is done (a scene where a grinning Cheshire cat style DiCaprio turns around as fireworks go off in the background is so crammed with cheese you can almost taste it), the fizz and sparkle of this spectacle goes limp.

It's no criticism of the acting on show, more a realisation that once the pomp and vulgar opulence have faded, the human element needs to come into play and it simply becomes a story of a thwarted love and a condemnation of the American Dream in the 1920s and the excesses of the times for the rich. Di Caprio impresses as Gatsby, as he struggles to put on a performance as the rich millionaire playboy; Maguire looks laconic and a bit disinterested as Carraway, the narrator of the piece; Joel Edgerton manages the best he can of a one-note character and Carey Mulligan is fairly wispy and ethereal as Daisy, managing to not entirely convince as a love interest.

The Great Gatsby is more a case of style over substance I'm afraid; it's a film of scale, but one which is built on very little foundation. It's hard to care for or even about any of the characters in the central story as the doomed love story plays out. Interestingly unlike the characters in Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge, you don't connect in the same way and it renders the final feeling as one of indifference and detachment rather than romantic longing. Maybe it's a flaw of not having read the book that I don't get that these characters are supposed to be wrapped up in all their own worlds (even though Carraway hints at how sickened he is by life).

Shallow and a little hollow, The Great Gatsby movie is impressive in places and aesthetically astounding - but it can't match the ambition of its director and its first half in terms of narrative.

A sudden change of pace and direction in the second half leaves you a little floundering and hoping that the overlong production would come to an end. Despite the wondrous costuming and period detail, the charm of Di Caprio and his acting, not once was my heart touched - and for a doomed love story that is the Great Gatsby movie, that's a fatal flaw.


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