Review: The Incredibly Misjudged Gatsby

Did you know that new Baz Luhrmann movie The Great Gatsby is based on a book?

The problems with this movie are too numerous to list, so I’ll stick to the ones that have stuck with me, two days after catching the movie, based on a book, on opening night.

By far the biggest flaw is that the movie is crushingly boring.  Both my fiance and I came out and commented how utterly boring it was.  The characters aren’t likeable, and hold no interest which means you don’t feel invested at all.  The characters fall flat and shallow, with their motivations questionable.  Luhrmann neglects to establish relationships between characters, assuming the viewer already knows how burning Gatsby’s desire for Daisy is.  We don’t, and even if you’ve read the book (the film is based on a book) the characters are different enough, and the plot reduced enough, to perhaps not relate to them.

Undoubtedly one of the core themes of the novel the movie is based on is the author’s take on the American Dream.  It’s an importan theme as the book is very “of a time”, fitting in to a period of history where achieving the American Dream was possibly easier than any other.  And the costs associated with that, namely the crash of 1929, were high.  Unfortunately little of this is present in the movie.  Luhrmann combines modern contemporary music and design language with art deco opulence from the roaring 1920s, leaving the viewer confused and disorientated.  At no point do you get a clear sense of period from the movie.

What really adds to this are the special effects, which are both over used and of poor quality.  For a film such as this there are entirely too many “virtual camera” shots, and their use is jarring and gratuitous.  I get the sense that Luhrmann was aiming for a fairy tale meets 1920’s aesthetic but stopped when he hit video game from 2002.  There are elements of Sin City about The Valley of Ashes and elements of The Wizard of Oz about West Egg.  It might be interesting to explore that contrast, but we never venture in to such challenging territory, unlike the book the movie is based on.

I’ve spoken a little about under developed characters, relationships and themes, yet the movie still feels overly long.  You are actively waiting for it to end well before the tape runs out.  The world isn’t fantastical enough for the desire for escapism to grasp you nor real enough to draw you in.  The movie, based on a book, seems to linger where it should be sprightly and gloss over what should be important. 90% of the scenes showing people dressed in 20’s attire dancing to modern music could be cut with no loss.  In fact, the movie would benefit hugely from more judicious editing and less indulging in Luhrmann’s stylistic desires.

But, far worse than everything else is that the movie constantly, tirelessly, pushes the fact it’s based on a great novel in your face.  From the hackneyed mechanic it introduces to feed the narration to actually putting the text of the novel on the screen (yes, it’s that subtle), it leaves no stone unturned. It is, of course, completely unnecessary but perhaps explains some of the other choices made.  This is clearly a movie made for a certain audience, one which might need reminding of the novel at every turn.

The rest of us would rather a more faithful, well considered adaptation.

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