(The Trailer of the Film via YouTube)
A Strange Domain: A review of Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby.”
“The Great Gatsby” is a film of parts. The film is a great attempt to depict grandeur and scale. Unfortunately somewhere the weight of the novel is lost which I believe is unfortunate. The first part of the film is unbalanced and large set-pieces of extravagance; dreamed up by Baz Luhrmann and the artifice police. This caprice is both the strength and the downfall of the film.
From the beginning of the novel a cry of sadness and melancholy pervades. Alas, with the narration all these feelings are lost. The voice of this narration by the actor Tobey Maguire is very flat and too brittle in short. What a coup de grace that could have been. “Australia” was better suited to this montage in the grand scale but that was well conceived; given that epic story in the Antipodes.
Something contrived, artificial, and shallow arises; where pathos was necessary to depict the story of F. Scott Fitzgerald. One wonders if Luhrmann appreciates the strangeness of this compulsive lushness. Luhrmann and his characters seem to have an emotional detachment, but it does not exist or is very poorly elaborated upon. We are given a fixed view of decadence which is neither modern, or true to its area.
The dancing like much of the acting is stilted. One is left baffled about the vacuity and veneer of the art. It is so stylised that hardly any of the genius of Scott Fitzgerald is left behind. We are in a lost domain but one which holds the ‘mirror’ up to art but collapses in the details. Beauty and colour abounds but none of the characters are well-drawn. They are neat, cardboard vessels revealing the truth about the shallowness of modern Hollywood more then anything else. The lovely actresses: Daisy Buchanan (the wonderfully superb Carey Mulligan), and Jordan Baker (Kristan Malko) deserve a film with more chiaroscuro, especially because that would favour the era, and the book. The middle and the last half this film was better, and full of some lasting images, especially the elaborate shots of interiors.
Any lasting beauty is lost in these shimmering surfaces however cannot make up for the loss in individual characters. Even a ventriloquist would have a problem such is the wooden nature of the film. Some of the music, the excitement of parties (look for a mix between New-York and a Gucci Handbag) seems to echo the problem of vanity. The entire movie seems riddled with Hollywood by the Numbers; going through the motions for the actors on display. We feel nothing for these characters. The film seems bogged down by this split identity. Yes there are some moments when you enter a ‘strange domain’ but castles and cardboard chateaus in relief does not really explore the complexity of Gatsby. Jay Gatsby similar to Ewan Macgregor in “Moulin Rouge” seems stuck in time, warped by emotions, the snow dust of illusion. Both DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire lack a defining sense of time and character, acting in the former being full of smirks, posed whisky glasses and the latter gives a very watery performance of ‘treading water’ and standing at right angles to the action.
Nothing remains except the vanishing point, the mystery of why the crash occurred, with painterly tendencies this reaches a vogue, a chapter of the world we inhabit: empathically lacking substance. Please tell me why we have to believe that a few pop stars, an enormous pool and vaious extreme close ups can hold a candle to Robert Redford’s version in the 1974s. We have a sense in that lovely version that we deal with a man not an artifice. Luhrmann’s version is cheaply beautiful but is in no way sufficient to pollute the mind with explosions or bring Scott Fitzgerald up to date. Far better to read Garcia Lorca’s “Poeta en Nueva York” to feel the thrill of death and life, pathos and the primal throb of the Jazz Age. If you are looking for Alain Resnais you shall not find him in “The Great Gatsby.”
Review by Timothy Sparks
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