(director/writer: Baz Luhrmann; screenwriters: Craig Pearce/based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald; cinematographer: Simon Duggan; editors: Matt Villa/Jason Ballantine/Jonathan Redmond; music: Craig Armstrong; cast: Leonardo DiCaprio (Jay Gatsby), Tobey Maguire (Nick Carraway), Joel Edgerton (Tom Buchanan), Carey Mulligan (Daisy Buchanan), Isla Fisher (Myrtle Wilson), Jason Clarke (George Wilson), Elizabeth Debicki (Jordan Baker), Amitabh Bachchan (Meyer Wolfsheim), Steve Bisley (Dan Cody), Adelaide Clemens(Catherine), Richard Carter (Herzog), Daniel Gill (Police Commissioner), David Furlong (Wall St. head, Chase), Jack Thompson (Dr.Walter Perkins); Runtime: 143; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Baz Luhrmann/Ms. Martin, Douglas Wick/Lucy Fisher/Catherine Knapman; Warner Brothers Pictures; 2013)
The overblown telling of Gatsby’s story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann(“Moulin Rouge“/”Australia”/”Strictly Ballroom”) never gets a firm grip on the delicate matters pertaining to the psychological makeup of his insecure rich playboy hero. Luhrman co-writes with Craig Pearce the screenplay for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 great American novel about conspicuous consumption and mistakenly relies on snappy dialogue to help us understand what makes his driven love-sick subject tick. The overblown telling of Gatsby’s story, filmed in an unnecessary 3-D, makes for a stiff pic that’s filled with annoyingly loud jazz scores, hip-hop (why go there for an authentic period film of the Roaring Twenties?) and garish gala party scenes, that drown out the smaller character study scenes that are more demanding of our attention to get at what the Gatsby story was about.

The Great Gatsby is based on the unfilmable novel, filmed many times before without great success, that attempts to bring us into Gatsby’s inner turmoil, despair and boredom, and how he needs to prove his worth to others through his wealth. It’s more difficult to capture Gatsby on film than through the written word and that is so even with a fine performance by the always reliable Leonardo DiCaprio, who understands his character and conveys his troubled feelings when allowed to. Unfortunately the director doesn’t always allows that character study to shine and instead shoots for stylized gloss and camp to hammer home some unnecessary superficial but entertaining looks at upper-class decadence. Thereby the pic never gets inside Gatsby’s head like the novel did. It relies on the pic’s narrator, the Tobey Maguire character, to dictate the story and in the end tell us about Gatsby, someone he was fascinated by from afar because he seemed so enigmatic and concerned about hiding his past and lived on the fast-lane.

Nick’s treatment from alcohol abuse as ordered by his shrink, after leaving a sanatorium, is to write a free-wheeling book about his recent experiences with Gatsby. This comes after Nick sadly recalls that not one of Gatsby’s thousand or more party friends showed for the murdered one’s funeral. The pic is framed around the narrator writing the book and recalling his meetings with the nouveau riche Gatsby, pretending to be old-money, who was driven to gain illicit wealth because of an obsessive love for a woman of the upper-class he feared would not otherwise want him.

The 30-year-old Yale grad, aspiring writer, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), has moved in the spring of 1922 from the Midwest to work on Wall St. as a bonds broker and by chance rents a humble cottage on Long Island, in the fictional village of West Egg, next door to another transplant from the Midwest, the mysterious 35-year-old party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Across the bay from Gatsby lives the equally wealthy socialite cousin of Nick’s from Louisville, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), in an equally opulent mansion. She’s married to old-money blue-blood, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a hunky athlete but a bully, bigot and womanizer, who looks down upon the nouveau riche. Tom is in the midst of an affair with Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher), the low-class wife of struggling gas station owner George Wilson (Jason Clarke), and the marriage is on the rocks because his wife suspects her husband of cheating.

When Gatsby finds out Nick is related to Daisy, he befriends him and lures the wide-eyed Nick into his world of corrupt politicians and police, celebrities, social climbers, hedonists and super-rich players. The charming Gatsby, fond of saying ‘old sport,’ riding around in a custom-made luxury sports car and giving us a million dollar smile, as if all that qualifies him as an acceptable member of the elite, also introduces Nick to a big-time gambler, the Jew who fixed the 1919 World Series and set Gatsby up to become super-rich in the bootlegging business, Meyer Wolfsheim (Amitabh Bachchan). Nick becomes the go-between for Gatsby and Daisy. The gist of the film has the re-invented tycoon Gatsby, the son of a poor North Dakota farmer, trying to win back the woman he met as an army officer, during the war, and even though in love with her ditched her five years ago when he correctly thought she would never accept him because he was poor.

The result is not awful (the costumes are pretty), but the story as told is far from great and not Gatsby enough. It further suffers from the director’s need for visual excess.