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Luhrmann’s Idea of Fun

A few months ago, I wrote about
my fears for the new film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s
The Great Gatsby, one of my favourite
American novels.  My concern, you may
recall, was that it had been placed in the hands of Baz Luhrmann, the
Australian director, best known for

Well, I saw it last night and I
regret to report that my fears were entirely justified.

Luhrmann’s Gatsby is, in a word,
grotesque.  This film is Luhrmann’s idea
of fun, which is to say it’s loud, overwrought, neurotic and, one might add for
good measure, nothing to do with its source material. 

Luhrmann’s camera doesn’t stand
still for a moment.  When it does, as in
the scenes of Gatsby’s parties, the screen is filled with frantic activity,
teeming with people, all on the move, rushing hither and thither, headed where
is anyone’s guess.  None of this is
eye-catching – if that’s what it’s meant to be – because there’s just too much
going on to absorb any of the details.  Nor
does all this movement catch the mood, either of the event or the period.  It’s just sound and fury, signifying nothing
but Luhrmann’s urge to pound our senses into a state of exhaustion. 

Luhrmann obviously can’t help
himself.  This kind of mayhem was the
principal feature of Moulin Rouge.  He’s not subtle, and frankly he’s not
clever.  He evinces no more talent for
this kind of enterprise than would an enthusiastic schoolchild with a boxful of
toys.  His films have no more substance
than pop music videos, or commercials for fancy cars.

Perhaps he is just a boy at
heart, which would explain why he doesn’t seem sure enough of his talent to deliver
a story well told, and trust the audience to get it.  Perhaps he doesn’t think we’re up to the task.  If that’s true it’s an insult to us.  Instead of using dialogue to take the plot
forward, he bombards us perpetually with noise and motion, all enhanced with
lashings of computer digital technology, which merely detracts from the story
and sometimes holds it back. “Who needs dialogue anyway?” he seems to be saying;
conversation only gets in the way. 

Perhaps Luhrmann thought the
script was awful.  It is.  But since he co-wrote it, he has only himself
to blame.  Some of Scott Fitzgerald’s
lines are dropped in from time to time, but they’re easily spotted because
they’re so out of place amid the mundane words around them, and they just don’t
sound as right as they looked on the printed page.       

The acting is fair to middling.  The characters just seem too restrained.  Perhaps they felt overwhelmed.  As Gatsby, Leonardo di Caprio, looking
considerably filled out since Titanic, doesn’t
seem entirely sure of himself.  There’s
no real show of the bravado that conceals his insecurity.  Where is the gusto?  Gatsby is supposed to be a playboy and a con
man, and possibly a gangster.  Whichever
of these he was, and for all his secrets, he’d surely be an outgoing type with
a persuasive charm.  But di Caprio
doesn’t attempt charm, nor does he ever let rip in other ways.  Even the ‘old sports’, uttered at the end of just
about every one of his lines, tend to be mumbled rather than confidently deployed
as one of the tools of his deception.  Mind
you, in fairness to di Caprio, neither of his predecessors in the role, Alan
Ladd, and Robert Redford, did any better. 

Carey Mulligan, as Daisy
Buchanan, the love of Gatsby’s life, likewise fails to project a woman
accomplished at setting hearts aflutter. 
She’s not terrible, just a mite too suburban and controlled for
Fitzgerald’s flighty, shallow femme fatale. And at no time do Gatsby and Daisy,
in their scenes together, convince us that they’re in the throes of a
passionate resurrection of their affair. 
Even Joel Edgerton as Tom, Daisy’s brutish, bigoted husband, seems to be
holding back.  He should have been having
a ball.

It’s hard to avoid the
observation that the actors might have been better served by a more sympathetic
director, one not so consumed by filling the mad choreography.

I won’t even mention the music,
which ought at least to have nodded to the Roaring Twenties rather than evoking
the Numbing Noughties.  Jay Z was
responsible, according to the credits.  In
the whacky whirling world of Baz Luhrmann, such niceties as matching the music
to the era being portrayed are obviously unimportant.  But then the kids musically weaned on gangsta
rap wouldn’t get it. 

Come to think of it, The Great Gatsby is an insult. 


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