Great Gatsby 3D

Art & Culture

Baz Luhrman is cross-pollinator extraordinaire. Hes crossed a sports film with ballroom dancing, Shakespeare with guido gang warfare,Toulouse-Lautrec with a jukebox musical, and a brochure for the Australian tourist board with a really boring Nicole Kidman film. For his next trick hes mated F. Scott Fitzgeralds great novel about excess, love and longing in the Jazz Age with a theme park ride to create the, somewhat parodic sounding, Great Gatsby in 3D.

To his credit Lurhman takes risks, hes not afraid to choose difficult material and swing for the fences, but in this instance hes struck out badly. This movie suffers from problems which are a result of some bad decision-making in its very conception. Like the Titanic, there is a sense in which it was sunk before it even left port. The film majors on parties, which are spectacular, and here look like what might happen if David LaChapelle and Busby Berkeley had got together to recreate a battle from Lord of the Rings. Its meant to look excessive and overwhelming, and occasionally it succeeds. But while Luhrmanns happy to play fast and loose with the time period in certain respects, the flappers dance to a soundtrack by Jay-Z and so on, to show people having sex, taking drugs or severely harming themselves in stupid accidents might be a step too far. Without any of these ingredients, the things that make a merely good party into a memorably excessive one, youre left with people dancing at regularly spaced intervals like a special edition of MTVs the Grind. And while all this is going on the camera swoops in and out, up and down and around like a roller-coaster running through a Vegas nightclub. It doesnt take very long to wear thin, Im sure I saw a man jumping fully clothed into a pool more than once – is that really what excess meant in those days? I somehow doubt it.

Another problem is that if Gatsby really is anything like a theme park ride its the psychological roller coaster of fascination, obsession and disenchantment that Carraway (played here by Toby Maguire) undergoes in relation to Jay Gatsby and his milieu. These are things that might be more easily portrayed with a nuanced performance than zingy, computer-assisted camera work. But nuanced performances have no place here – in fact the whole style of the film militates against lingering on an actors face for more than a few seconds. This means that once the visual novelty has worn off theres very little to sustain your attention over the rest of the slow-feeling three hours of the films duration.

Theres also the Carey Mulligan problem. Hollywood seems to have a blind spot for her ordinariness in same the way that a lot of Americans seem to think Mick Hucknall is a really cool dude. For British people Mulligan will always look like a the sort of freckly bird who works in Banana Republic, which is fine, but it makes it very hard to believe that shes the object of Gatsbys obsession. Shes not beautiful enough to just be fascinating and shes not a good enough actress to make herself fascinating.  Her final equivocation is somehow neither surprising nor truly harmful, because we never sat still with her and Gatsby (pretty well-played by Leonardo DiCaprio) for long enough to believe in their connection. In the same vein Joel Edgertons Tom Buchanan has only one-dimension of boorishness – but he, at least, does look fantastic with a pencil moustache.

In the end Gatsby isnt great at all, after all its visual bombast, its only slightly better than ok. Id suggest you dont see this film, but if you absolutely have to, please read the book first.

William Fowler (@notvoodoo)