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Move review:The Great Gatsby

Updated on May 16, 2013

Every director, regardless of how successful they've been, can hit a bump in the road as far as their career is concerned. But with the release of 2008's Australia, director Baz Luhrmann didn't just merely hit a bump but a veritable rubber-necking car crash of a disaster.

Dusting himself down from that antipodean embarrassment, Luhrmann's return is certainly an ambitious one, as he takes on this classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which was first published in 1925.

Having survived the horrors of the First World War, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) decides to try his hand at a career as a bond salesman in New York City. Instead of living in the city, he decides to rent a small cottage in a picturesque part of Long Island.

Not only is it a great change for him, the country too is going through some changes of its own, brought about by incredible economic growth. And despite the restrictions that came with prohibition, it didn’t stop the masses from having a hell of a time.

Nick is reunited with his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who introduces him to a crowd who know how to have a good time. But for all the fun they have, nothing can match the sheer scale of decadence achieved by his neighbour however, for next door to Nick lives someone who seriously knows how to throw a party: one Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).

The more Nick asks about Gatsby, the more of an enigma he seemingly becomes. Everyone certainly has an opinion on how he made his fortune, but no one seems to have the definitive answer. Although impressed by the legend, Nick is curious to find out more about this mysterious character. And then, one day, out of the blue, Nick receives an invitation to one of Gatsby's parties. Thinking it may be a neighbourly gesture, he accepts, but Nick is unaware that Gatsby has an ulterior motive for inviting him, one that will have rippling repercussions on his newly-found society set.

Luhrmann has certainly achieved a solid reputation for making statement, visually impressive, musically theatrical films (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge) and this one can certainly be added to that list, as there's no deny it's a visual and musical tour de force.

The director certainly goes to town (and then some) in recreating that vibrant period of the twenties, making it visually sumptuous. It has to be said that it has been art directed to within an inch of its life – possibly to the point of excess, particularly where the 3D is concerned, which unsurprisingly, is completely unnecessary; it's actually a shame seeing such a fine director resorting to something so gimmicky.

And then there's the music, which sees a fusion of the traditional music of the time with more contemporary urban beats supplied by the likes of Jay-Z, Beyoncé and will.i.am. And of course in Luhrmann's hands, it works.

So far, so good right? But when you release a two and a half hour flick, it needs to have more than cinematic spectacle, and The Great Gatsby simply doesn't.

Its duration physically feels a lot longer, for like a tired, well-worn mattress, the film sags deeply and uncomfortably in its middle. With so much show and razzamatazz thrown at you, you can start to fell immune to it all, so you start to look for a story to sustain you but there simply isn't one there.

This is all the more disappointing when you consider that there are a number of strong performances of note – particularly from DiCaprio who digs a little deeper than most to give a dazzling portrayal of Fitzgerald's eponymous character – with both Maguire and Mulligan impressing with some watchable support work.

It may well evoke the period effortlessly, but it suffers from one underlying flaw: a severe lack of passion. Curiously Luhrmann was happy enough to give the period a make-over (certainly where the music is concerned), but oddly chose to adhere to character traits of the time, with their well-guarded emotions that very rarely surface. With the Gatsby/Daisy relationship the crux of the film, their love for one another is more alluded to more than anything; it feels disappointingly like a relationship that is forever at arm's length, as opposed to a being in full embrace. Sadly there's more of an emotional connect between Kermit and Miss Piggy than Gatsby and Daisy.

Much like the period it's set in, The Great Gatsby is most certainly extraordinarily decadent, but at the same time it's also painfully self-indulgent and a tad too aloof for its own good.

3 booms

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