The Roaring 20’s were full of drinking, dancing and debauchery. It was all about style and jazz music, which just so happens to be what 80% of what Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby was all about. That’s not at all a compliment.
Most of us read (or were supposed to have read) The Great Gatsby in high school, so you are probably familiar with the story. Well forget about the story because that is not the focus of this film. In fact, you can barely say that Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the focus of the film. The real hero of this film is not Jay G, but rather the score by Jay-Z. The music perfectly complimented the visuals and gave the film more depth than any of the actors ever could.
Throughout the film, you take notice of how Leonardo DiCaprio tries to bring life to the poorly written role of Gatsby, but ultimately can’t make a diamond out of coal. Aside from Leo, the other actors/actresses were as wooden as the barrels used to smuggle booze during the Prohibition. Special mentions would have to be Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan for not bringing life to the characters they were playing. I’ve seen corpses act with greater depth on an episode of Law & Order.
It bears mentioning that I saw this film in 3D, mainly because I don’t know if there is much of a difference between the 2D and 3D version of the film. I can only remain hopeful (despite the disappointment this film was) that the visuals were better in the 2D version since the 3D took what were often beautiful scenes and turned them into muddled, vague scenery. The earliest example happens within the first 5 minutes of the film, when the camera takes you on a journey full of shaky, unidentifiable landscapes, and CGI that was revolutionary a decade ago. Whether it was done on purpose to create the allusion of being drunk remains to be known, but the best scenes were when the 3D effects were at their most minimal.
The main things this film has going for it is the soundtrack and some of the visual style. In a film that has a runtime of almost two hours and a half, substance is essential, and there is no excuse for lacking substance especially considering the magnificent source material. I am very familiar with Baz Luhrmann’s film style, which consists of great music, stylistic visuals and some semblance of a structured story, but why didn’t The Great Gatsby work? The music is there. The visuals are more or less there. Hmmmm, I think something is missing. Luhrmann greatly sacrificed one of the greatest stories about the downfalls of the American dream and replaced it with sounds, style and an iota of the mystery that is Gatsby.
All of the downfalls may have been forgivable if the film chose a solid direction to go in. It could have gone highly stylistic and heavy on the source material like Romeo + Juliet, or it could have taken the over-the-top, wildly stylistic, bombastic experience of Moulin Rouge!. Instead, we’re left with a product that is placed awkwardly in the middle of two familiar styles, without reaching the heights of either one. As history has told us, after the Roaring 20’s came the Great Depression. After seeing this film, expect the same outcome.