Months before its release, everyone was already talking about Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby”. So expectations were high, perhaps a bit too high. Early reviews however have been inordinately pissy and there’s no doubt that the movie is too long at 142 minutes, too reliant on its own visual experience in the first half hour and too packed with songs. Which is, of course, the point. Luhrmann is using the music of one century to comment on another (if you’ve seen “Moulin Rouge” you’ll know exactly what I mean). Hearing Beyonce, Florence + the Machine and The xx in a movie set in the 1920’s is certainly unusual. And if you’re longing to hear Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful”, this is your movie. Luhrmann’s technique is flamboyantly operatic. Which is one of the movie’s problems at first. The good news is that when Luhrmann does connect with key moments in the script, he makes magic. Casting Leonardo DiCaprio to play Gatsby was certainly a challenge. That said, DiCaprio gives a solid, ready-to-rock performance. He and Tobey Maguire delight in the scene where Gatsby is finally about to meet the woman of his dream again, Daisy, played by Carey Mulligan. Daisy is married to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) and the tension between these three characters is the backbone of the story.
Luhrmann’s films are noted for their beauty, and this one is no exception. Cinematographer Simon Duggan has shot an idealized New York that makes you want to travel back in time right now. The locations have been chosen with great care; the costumes and settings are beautiful but they are rendered in 3-D, a needless approach that left me and the audience with a headache by the time it was over. What’s more, purists will probably object to abridgments of the book. And I suspect that no screen adaptation could ever completely satisfy these purists. That said, Luhrmann’s vision is nothing short of impressive here. He has reanimated a classic for a new generation, letting “The Great Gatsby” resonate with terror and tenderness. And much like its central character, it’s a major struggle at first. But when it flies, there’s no resisting it. Good job, old sport.