The Great, flat Gatsby. The film and not the book, which I barely remember as a watery thing from high school; suffice to say that Eckleburg's wire-rims struck me only as one of the most awkward, budget appropriations ever duct-taped in retrospective panic to a greasy narrative skid. I see what you did there, F Scott Fitzgerald. But anyways- Luhrmann's filum. If you're asking me, Baz's graph started with a short, sharp uptick and has been on a slide since Romeo & Juliet. Strictly Ballroom was cute enough and certainly brave, R&J a classic but Moulin Rouge was bad (sunk by Kidman's candle-faced ineptitude) Australia awful (ditto) and Gatsby is... it's not even... it's just... I don't even know if I care any more. I'm still pulling on my arse-kicking boots, though.
R&J was deft, assured and most of all charming and the textual cut that served that script so well is still a fucking masterclass in positive, coherent, economical adaptation. Baz is great when he's bouncing something bright and passionate around the court and maybe he thought he could kick Gatsby in the same direction, but in the end it comes down to this- he chose the wrong material. Gatsby is ponderous, scaly and utterly devoid of charm. This is so well articulated by the godawful soundtrack that you should just put it on now and let it do the talking. Hearing Jay-Z beating his ludicrous little meat over an endless montage of queazy, overstuffed visual gluttony is just sad and symptomatic. When Baz drops the music ball this hard you know his compass is out of whack.
He did better with the casting. Maguire, Edgerton and Debicki are solid and Clarke and Mulligan are quite good, although I've seen the dribbly gossamer ingenue once too often from her now and that schtick is on thin ice. I will say that she sold the Gatsby-Daisy reunion well, her tremulous ambiguity so en pointe that I sucked it up whole in spite of everything. Fairy clap for that. Luhrmann doesn't always do the best job of keeping a foot on Aussie hammery and Isla Fisher nearly gets away on him but that's the least of his problems. DiCaprio as the titular enigma is the pits. His plank-like mug parts the ambient visual fuckery like something you'd use to batter a portcullis with the help of twelve men-at-arms; his brows shift like those of an old dog farting on the rug before you and I get the distinct impression he thinks we should be grateful. Was he even trying or did he not even fail? Leo's bluff is thoroughly called by the palpable absence of chemistry between him and the woman he's supposed to have arranged his life around, which leaves me to question why he was cast at all. Watching him lurch between sweaty laboured effusion and rudderless shuffling is something Luhrmann surely should have spared us, but short of riding him mercilessly all the way through the material, I really don't know what could have been done. DiCaprio is just lazy and mediocre.
Technically speaking, there's a lot to consider. The screenplay by Luhrmann and Pearce is fine; they've never had a problem with the words and that's something for which they deserve more credit. But with every outing Baz's trademark spectaculars seem to lose more depth and lustre. The West Egg parties are just plain overplayed; without the giddy, silly, lo-fi intimacy so fundamental to SB and R&J, the crowd pans are tedious, the costuming superfluous tinsel and the art direction so much like someone who never, ever stops talking that I longed to scream shut up damn you at the little old screen. Photographically it feels liberal and sumptuous until all that whacky craning has to pay the piper, the crunch coming where the film can least afford it- in the effacement of what little human scale there is.
Much has been said about the film's position on the social themes that are grist to its mill, whether its glittering vistas are homage or critique. But it's simple enough; the rich are by definition vulgar, whether they were born into money or clawed it into a pile themselves, and that they seem no more conscious of their own grotesquery now than they were in 1922 speaks unwitting volumes. The Great Gatsby has always presented this reality to the perceptive. It's just that the observation is as banal as the phenomenon of greed itself.
I'm mad with Luhrmann because there's a hundred fantastic sparkling stories screaming take me now, Baz from every direction and he chose this one like a big plonker. Watch it for the frocks on a rainy afternoon but don't go out of your way.