Follow by Email

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"The Great Gatsby" 2013 Baz Luhrmann Forces The Great Gatsby through a Kaleidoscope -- And It Works!

Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" is an eye-popping, over-the-top, hyperkinetic, loud, heavy-handed circus, opera, and kitchen sink drama. Luhrmann takes F. Scott Fitzgerald's quiet, brief, cerebral novel and forces it through a kaleidoscope, crashing and scattering images in a peacock-colored, geometric Busby Berkeley dance routine. The amazing thing is, it works. The heart and soul of Fitzgerald's novel are there onscreen, and honored. Underneath the literal glitter – that sticks to characters' faces and shoulders in multicolored patterns – this is a genuinely serious film about big themes. It entertained me, it moved me, and I cared.

I am very sensitive to color and there were scenes in Luhrmann's "Gatsby" when I was overwhelmed by chromatic sensation. There is a hotel room orgy. The women wear vivid, finger-in-your-eye obvious eye shadow that contrasts with their vivid, obtrusive colored jewelry that clashes with their crazily colored dresses which throb in contrast with the hideous, red, patterned wallpaper which I am sure is the wallpaper in the hell that bad interior decorators go to. In another scene, purple, blue, and gold metallic streamers cascade downward on a dancer in a buttercup-yellow, ostrich feather tutu.

And it all moves so fast. That ostrich feather tutu is onscreen for seconds. The camera just keeps moving on to the next visual sensation. The costumes, the cars, the special effects, Bollywood film icon Amitabh Bachchan as Jewish gangster, Meyer Wolfsheim!!!: this movie's fabulosity budget must have been a zillion dollars.

Luhrmann lays everything on with a trowel. Long after the audience has realized that certain characters are users whose wealth protects them from the consequences of their evil deeds, Luhrmann tells the audience that, not just by speaking those words from Fitzgerald's book, but by writing the words out on the screen. Luhrmann shows, he tells, he beats you over the head. Only twice, though, did I feel he'd gone too far. Once when an obviously fake shooting star crossed the screen not once but I think three times, and when a character, struck by a car, is shown hurtling through space not once but twice. Once really was enough in both cases – one shooting star, one hurtling corpse.

There is a scene in this movie that took my breath away. After all that jazz, and color and movement, the movie just … stops. It stops in a hotel room. If you've seen the film, you know exactly which scene I'm talking about. There are no special effects in this scene, no fireworks, no presto changeo. It's just a group of people sitting around talking. And suddenly you feel as if you are on Broadway watching a Tony-winning production of Eugene O'Neill. That scene make my guts churn; it broke my heart. Is Luhrmann showing off here? Saying, See, I could hook you in with fabulousness, and now I will move you with nothing more magical than words and real feelings.

The cast is perfect. Leonardo DiCaprio totally owns Jay Gatsby. DiCaprio manages to be human amidst all the glitz. He conveys Gatsby's power and his vulnerability. His voice is perfect; he sounds like someone trying to sound like a Kennedy. Joel Edgerton inhabits Tom Buchanan's brutality and snobbery. Isla Fisher is solid trash. Carey Mulligan brings Daisy to charming, pathetic, despicable life. Tobey Maguire is appropriately observant, lost, tempted, and jaded as Nick. Gorgeous Elizabeth Debicki channels Kirsten Scott Thomas. Richard Carter conveys quiet menace as a character whose job it is to announce, "Chicago is calling." If you can make that line scary, you are very talented.

The soundtrack mixes genuine jazz age music with rap-influenced music, and it works, too.


  1. I saw it today in 3-D and loved it. Great review - you hit the nail right on the head. I have to disagree with the shooting star, though. It was shown twice, I think, - I was watching because of your review. I thought it worked because I saw it as either Gatsby remembering it or as Gatsby being that shooting star or both.

  2. You saw it in 3-D!!! Must have been wild.