The Great Gatsby

I came to this movie with an open mind: I had read no reviews, forgotten the book and the Redford/Farrow movie as well – onset of old age, I’m afraid. So this is not based on either nostalgia or a carping comparison of its faithfulness to Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous work.

The downhill started with the opening scenes where we find our narrator, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), in a sanatorium recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, and severe depression. This clichéd device to tell a story always sets my antenna on red alert: oh you poor thing, unable to face up to your demons, why not write them down? Come on Baz! Weedy little Nick never recovers from this damming introduction in my opinion, weak-faced and seemingly incapable of emotion – saving star-struck perhaps – as he gets drawn into the intrigue of his cousin’s romance with his mysterious neighbour, Gatsby.

Our introduction to Gatsby is pure Luhrmann too: Moulin Rougein 3D. While I admit the lavish party scenes are beautifully filmed, choreographed and directed, seeing twenties girls gyrating to Jayzee’s dubstep beats is not only anachronistic but also deeply disturbing to the purist. There are other musical contributions from Lana Del Ray, Amy Winehouse, and Bryan Ferry, but even the more contemporary music from Cole Porter is before its time. If I was of a generous disposition I could say that perhaps Luhrmann was trying to illustrate the universality of man’s worship at the altar of mammon; however, I think he was simply showing off: I will do it like this because I can and I am good at it.

The cinematography seems intentionally bright and garish, perhaps to optimize the 3D, but he might just as well have done the whole film in a modern setting for the mish mash of sensations that are being fast bowled towards the audience.

The change of pace to the more prosaic ‘love’ story between Gatsby and the beautiful but troubled Daisy as a result does not work; it seems like we enter a different film, although the build-up to the mystery man Gatsby and his unveiling at one of his parties provides some suspense and a good link. At 142 minutes, methinks it’s overlong and narcissistic.

Despite my overall misgivings, from which I don’t think the film ever recovers, I enjoyed the performances of the other main characters. Leo DiCaprio is the perfect Gatsby, handsome, urbane, yet ever so slightly gauche. His faux accent, ‘Oxford ol’ Sport’, is charming; his delusional and obsessive nature credible. As Nick puts it, ‘he was the most hopeful man I have ever met’. His attention to detail creates some comic moments too – for instance when he takes over Nick’s little tea party and transforms his humble cottage into a version of the orchid house at Kew.

Carey Mulligan, from the time we meet her reclining on the sofa, white curtains billowing in the wind, flashing her diamonds, is at once vulnerable, beautiful and damaged. A spoilt little rich girl, in fact, longing to escape the callous and casual cruelty of her philandering husband Tom Buchanan.  Australian Joel Edgerton, last seen in Animal Kingdom, one of my rare 5 star movies, sporting a Clark Gable moustache, brings a ruthless gangster streak into this battle of old money vs new.

Talking of new money, I was thrilled to see ‘the Big B’, as Amitabh Bachchan is known in India, and whose $2bn home I had just photographed in Mumbai, playing the Jewish ganger, Wolfsheim; perhaps being a mogul who has won and lost fortunes, yet remains one of India’s richest men, qualifies him for the part.

But just as I begin to get more immersed in the meat of the movie, Luhrmann pings us back and forth into the sanatorium; to a typewriter banging out letters, superimposed on the screen; to snow morphing into cut-paper alphabets fluttering aimlessly about, and I think, oh no, here we are again, back in schmaltzy Hollywood-land, dumbing down a film for the lowest common denominator, the US mass market. Perhaps it is intended to be a Coles Notes for GCSE students? What a wasted opportunity for a stellar cast. I only hope they had fun making it!

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