“The Great Gatsby” Movie Review

     Going into “The Great Gatsby”, I fully expected director Baz Luhrmann’s take on the story to be filled with lavish visual splendor, a trademark of his going back to his most successful films “Moulin Rouge” and “Romeo and Juliet”.  When your source material is the novel of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the prospects of a solid film seem to be in order.  Unfortunately, “The Great Gatsby” suffers from a number of notable pitfalls.  From miscast actors to an overlong running time, Luhrmann’s film doesn’t exactly satisfy and I’m not sure the parts assembled here were really right for this material in the first place.  There’s plenty to look at, but what does it all add up too?

     The story stays true to Fitzgerald’s book when we meet Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire) as he tells the story to a doctor in an alcohol treatment facility he has recently checked into.  Nick is a bond broker on Wall Street and has rented a small house on Long Island.  Nick’s cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) lives across the bay with her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) and the group visits frequently.  Shortly after moving in, Nick notices the mansion next door hosts weekly parties for the elite of New York.  The mysterious owner is said to be someone no one has actually met, and goes by the name of Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). 

     Nick receives an invitation to one of the upcoming parties at Gatsby’s mansion and finally meets the man himself, only to find he was invited for a reason.  Daisy is Gatsby’s long lost love and when they broke off their engagement, Gatsby was dirt poor.  Now, five years later, Gatsby is one of the richest men in New York and has set his sites on winning Daisy back.  His intention is to use Nick as a way to reintroduce him into her life, even though she is now married.  It helps that Nick has full knowledge of an extramarital affair Tom is having with a mistress and the principles involved play a crucial role in the outcome of the story.

     The first act of the film is what really ruined the experience for me, primarily because it doesn’t make any sense.  Any hint of the dramatic is quickly erased by a cartoon like atmosphere.  Cars driven by characters dart through traffic as if they were a part of the famous Disneyland attraction “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”  The background characters act as though they are caricatures animated over vivid and colorful sets.  If this was a musical, you’d expect these scenes to have these large groups busting out into song, but because this story is meant to be dramatic, the scenes I’m speaking of feel out of place. 

     The editing in the first act is a huge reason why what we are seeing is a kaleidoscopic mess.  I have no idea where Luhrmann was going with this, but thankfully he calms down for the film’s third act where the majority of the plot finally comes together.  In a scene where Tom brings Nick to a hotel room and sets him up with several women so he can be with his mistress, Luhrmann chooses to edit the sequence as if it were a music video.  Any sense of emotion is lost as his camera moves at a frenetic pace and the cuts are so quick, one couldn’t concentrate on any single element for more than a second.  This style continues when Luhrmann stages the parties at Gatsby’s mansion.  Quick cut editing looks great when it is accompanied by the latest pop tune, but suffers greatly when accompanied by scenes with important dialogue.

     One’s opinion of the overall product here will likely depend on how immersed you allow yourself to be in the world Luhrmann has created.  For the first 45 minutes, I thought he was angling toward turning the story into more of a farce in the tradition of a Mel Brooks film.  Then, without notice, the story takes a sharp emotional turn and the visual tone completely changes.  It’s almost as though Luhrmann wanted to present the material one way, but was forced to change directions half way through because the story demanded it.  I would also question the casting of Toby Maguire as he just didn’t fit the part.  Numerous scenes in the film have him reaching beyond the limits of his acting ability as well as his on screen persona, which doesn’t project well with this film’s mature theme.

     The other performances in the film are satisfactory, given the circumstances, and the technical aspects of the film are near flawless.  I think Luhrmann could’ve easily cut 30 minutes from the 142 minute running time, which would’ve made for a better experience.  All the fluff, including the much heralded soundtrack by Jay Z, adds nothing to the film.  “The Great Gatsby” is a classic example of a filmmaker spending too much time on style and ignoring the very narrative structure the film’s source material excelled at.  The term “overdone” doesn’t begin to describe what Luhrmann has committed to film here. GRADE: D