Director: Baz Luhrmann
Village Roadshow Pictures
Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby is likely the stupidest film I’ll ever see. And how fitting for it to be in 3D – the same issues with that gimmick apply to Luhrmann’s creative angle: you’re put right in the film and for that to happen there needs to be a hole; the movie’s heart then is removed just so we can all see inside. No matter that it’s a hollow, empty experience,because we got to see inside it man!
In that regard Luhrmann is a bit like Peter Jackson, using whatever tricks possible to cover up for the absence of storytelling. Where once they were capable of telling a simple, human story now it’s mostly about the razzle and almost entirely about the dazzle.
The Great Gatsby, a slim novel, has plenty going for it – angles, themes, subtext, all of this is ignored by Luhrmann because he wants to throw a party. With everything louder than everything else we are tossed into the Jazz Age party scenes – except there are snippets of hip-hop and fireworks and dizzying camera plunges and pull-backs – all signifying everything and offering/revealing nothing. Troweled on excess is garish, cartoonish and leaves the actors to mug it for the camera and hope for the best. In that regard Leonardo DiCaprio does the best work – he isn’t great, but he is Gatsby. And he appears, almost, to be having a good time. Carey Mulligan is ghastly-dull, portrait of barely restrained vacuity – but then, so is Daisy, so no real damage done. But Tobey Maguire doesn’t really nail the crucial character of Nick Caraway (our narrator). Probably because Luhrmann has him in a sanatorium being treated for alcoholism and swiftly turns him into a bit-part while still hoping he’ll be the narrator, deciding instead that the main thing to take from Gatsby is nothing of idealism nor a comment on capitalism or the strange lure of wealth and the ugliness of greed dressed up to look pretty, because, instead, cinema goers what I have here for you is a doomed love story! Feel sad for the lovely people that don’t get to bone.
The Great Gatsby (novel) is full of flawed/unlikeable characters and Luhrmann decides the best way to play that is to fill the screen with beautiful people in scenes with far too much colour and far too many colours, hoping then we’ll care about them. We can’t sympathise, empathise or even try to care. Our heads are spinning from the absurdity of too much whoosh.
Much has been made of the film’s hip-hop music but it’s really a non-issue. I mean, sure, I don’t agree with its use – but then I’m watching a Jazz Age film in 3D so it’s a leave-the-brain-at-the-door scenario ultimately. And so the rumours of Jay-Z popping a cap in this film’s ass have been greatly exaggerated, for the most part we hear Craig Armstrong’s lovely-but-predictable score. The hip-hop elements are occasionally almost tasteful even if always incongruous. But in terms of ruining this film, it’ll be a long-wait in the coat-check with ticket in hand. Jay-Z and Beyonce at the very back of the queue. Luhrmann wants to kill what he (allegedly) loves with his own kindness.
Good lord 3D is stupid. In this film it’s unnecessary, at best it’s like those tacky hologram postcards in the bogan shops white witches run, selling crystals and those posters with horses and footsteps sunk in sand next to bathroom-wall poetry.
But it’s worse than that here because halfway through the film it seems to forget it was ever in 3D and concentrates instead on the (new) business at hand: being a bad Arthur Miller play.
The car-trip to New York, a race/chase, is one of several moments where Luhrmann appears, oddly, to be doffing his feather-boa blinged cap to Stanley Kubrick.
When we arrive at the hotel for an argument (just the ten-minute argument was it?) we’re supposed to just believe that the film’s moral centre has arrived.
But it’s hard to believe this because until the pointless 3D lifts stopped – so many shots of Leo or Tobey or Carey hovering in the middle of fucking-nowhere while all around them a blur – I couldn’t be entirely sure that I wasn’t watching a dramatic live-action recreation of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Funnily enough the film is actually kind of faithful to the book – I mean there are a few howlers and it’s all played up for LOL-as-opposed-to-actual-laugh moments in some strange world between the last film makeover of Chicago and a Kanye West video, a world where Luhrmann lives, getting sleep every other year or so – but it does on a very crude, stylised and overblown way, tell the actual story as printed (mostly) in the book. It’s even believable that Baz Luhrmann might have read the book. It’s just impossible to think that he understood it.
I don’t dislike the novel but I do think it’s been ludicrously overrated, it’s not only not one of the classics of the 20th Century, it’s not even the best book that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote (that would be Tender Is The Night). And Luhrmann only manages to find the void, probably because he’s been trained to smell his own; he never tells us why we should be appalled at this, or if we should. He just wants us to be sad that some hot people never got to fuck – and you can tell he’s sad about that too because imagine the party he’d vomit onto the screen if that got going!
By the time this version of Nick Caraway gets to moralising the film’s sugar-rush has entirely crashed. It’s post-party nap-time. A bit of babbling in the cot and then out!
So I killed the two-plus hours actually enjoying the absurdities, black characters appearing like pancake-packet and raisin-box caricatures, blunted hip-hop beats drowning out the comic-book stylisation of a jazz horn being played on a balcony. At one moment, during a night-scene, you can almost see Luhrmann flicking back through the rushes, panicking as he thumbs back through his script remembering he was supposed to make references to the time and age whenever possible for those confused by Jay-Z’s Executive Producer credit and now wondering if Outkast’s Idlewild film had just been remade with way more white people and so – hovering in 3D’s wasteland, of course – we have construction workers hammering out a bridge. In the pitch black of night.
A whole lot of people will praise the set-pieces, the costumes, the daringness of it all. They loved the lights. So pretty. They in fact love lamp!
And then they’ll return to their meal-through-a-straw.
Of course the very simple clue that this film was likely to be a turkey was there right in front of us almost immediately – and no, I don’t (just) mean the (3D) credit listing Baz Luhrmann. I’m referring of course to the fact that the film features Isla Fisher. She is incapable of being good in a film, or even – perhaps by mistake – in a good film.