Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

May 14, 2013

CALLERI: 'The Great Gatsby' looks at an era through a funhouse lens


Niagara Gazette — Luhrmann’s approach heightens the booze-riddled party sequences, which are filled here with raucous music and bedlam. He is also obsessed with fast cars. The wild parties and road races overwhelm the love story. When the director and his screenwriter Craig Pearce focus on the tragic romance, the novel’s allure intensifies. But Luhrmann has miscalculated. He’s made two movies. One that relies on the strong drama inherent in the lives of the characters. And another that relies on shallow escapades and the director’s usual madcap, over-the-top editing. The dichotomy is jarring.

Another problem is the addition of a framing device that’s not in the novel, which is set in 1922. Seven years later, at the brink of the Great Depression, narrator Nick Carraway, a stock broker from middle America who rents a gardener’s cottage next to Gatsby’s fortress, is telling the story from a sanitarium where he’s being treated for alcoholism. Strangely, Luhrmann and Pearce are now judging the era they celebrated. They also gloss over Fitzgerald’s intimation that Carraway and female golf professional Jordan Baker are unsure of their sexual nature.

As is to be expected from Luhrmann, the music is all over the place, mostly discordant songs that don’t jibe with what was heard in the era. The use of rock and roll and contemporary pop worked in his “Moulin Rouge“ and “Romeo + Juliet,” but they are discordant here. Hip hop? It takes you out of the movie. When Gatsby is introduced at his mansion during a party 35-minutes into the film, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” is playing and fireworks explode like messengers. This is a cinematic moment stolen right from Woody Allen’s “Manhattan.”

Toby Maguire is good as Nick until Luhrmann gives him nothing to do except to continue to narrate the story. In the Plaza Hotel sequence, as Gatsby and Tom engage in a nasty argument for control of Daisy, Nick does nothing but stare at the confrontation. Another problem is that the rivals are fighting over Carey Mulligan's utterly dull Daisy. She plays her as weak and uncertain. She should be stronger. Daisy may be coy, but she’s also manipulative. Mulligan’s not believable in the part. She's a fuzzy fantasy.

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