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Monday, 27 May 2013

Films - The Great Gatsby - directed by Baz Luhrmann

Star rating - 6/10

Like a good recipe it has all the right ingredients, but this version of F Scott Fitzgerald's classic, brilliant novel misses a beat, or rather, it has altogether too many beats  to create the right rhythm. Baz Luhrmann is a genius of a director, and his body of work is fabulous and dazzling, including perennial favourites Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet. But his vision of the 1920's cautionary tale of lost love and materialistic values does not chime with mine, as Luhrmann has forced his unmistakable imprint into every nook and cranny of the story.

The terrible reviews had lowered my expectations somewhat, which is often a good thing, but the opening scenes were terrible, with a Disney-like quality which threatened to overpower the whole story. And there was far too much background music, much of which felt out of place, with the notable exception of Lana Del Rey's lovely Young and Beautiful, which fitted perfectly, but outshone the accompanying action. As it progressed it did get slightly better, but not much.

There is one exemption to this general criticism, and that is the ever wonderful Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, the mysterious millionaire who has risen from poverty and created an aura of dazzling enticement, all to win back the heart of Daisy. They were in love five years before when he emerged from the war dashing and uniformed but penniless, and his poverty meant their romance was hopeless. So he created a fortune from illicit dealings in the shady 1920's  - all to win her back. She is by now unhappily married to old moneyed Tom across the bay - and the tussle commences. 

DiCaprio is perfect as the shady, charismatic Gatsby, who charms Daisy's cousin Nick, the narrator of the tale. Possibly even better than Robert Redford in the far superior 1974 version. He throws lavish parties - which are admittedly perfect for the Luhrmann brand of excess, but the rest of the action should be more nuanced and subtle, not words usually associated with Luhrmann's style. Carey Mulligan is not quite right as the beautiful, sad, fool Daisy; she appears too insipid even for the character's undoubted frailties. And her foolish cousin Nick is unrecognisable from the idealistic person Fitzgerald created, his written words appearing across the screen in a totally unnecessary embellishment.

Whenever DiCaprio is not on screen it seems somehow empty, despite the lavish sets and excesses on display. I can't imagine how over the top it would seem in 3D, even in 2D is was too much, and but for DiCaprio would have sunk without a trace of Fitzgerald in sight. 

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