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REVIEW: Luhrmann's 'The Great Gatsby' Wows with Audacious 3-D Visuals, Sags Dramatically

by Anne Thompson
May 6, 2013 1:04 AM
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'The Great Gatsby'
'The Great Gatsby'

"The Great Gatsby" is a guilty pleasure, a swirling, audacious piece of cinema --in 3-D!--that could prove a crowdpleaser for young audiences. Set during the Roaring Twenties, the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel has been a fave of high school and college kids for decades. It plays young, partly because it's about young people in love--or their idea of love, which judging from this latest take on the story, makes people incredibly stupid.

The movie opens May 10 before its May 15 international premiere as the opener at the Cannes Film Festival, 15 miles from where Fitzgerald finished the novel.

It's easy to discern the attraction for Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann: "The Great Gatsby" offers plenty of room for visual spectacle and deep-focus 3-D, as well as cinematic mythmaking. The movie opens up, much like "Oz: The Great and Powerful," with an old black and white flat Warner Bros. logo accompanied by a scratchy jazz track, which gives way to gaudy colors, 3-D and a contemporary soundtrack by the likes of Eminem and Jay Z. The music captures the rule-breaking giddiness of the Jazz Age.

If Luhrmann's cameras swooped and whirled in "Moulin Rouge," their digital counterparts fly in "Gatsby," skimming along the shimmering waters of Long Island Sound, above the skyscrapers of Manhattan and over Jay Gatsby's gleaming yellow roadster speeding down the roadways between the city and his gold turreted West Egg mansion.

"Back then all of us drank too much," intones narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who in the script's biggest departure from the original, recounts his relationship with his neighbor Gatsby, "the single most hopeful person I ever met," to a sanitarium shrink, where he is confined for being morbidly alcoholic. Luhrmann has fun playing with his digital toolkit, bouncing images off various reflective surfaces, and throwing pieces of type and words at the audience across the screen.

Never more tan, lithe and handsome, slicked-back blond Leonardo DiCaprio, who worked with Luhrmann on "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet," looks the part of Gatsby, the mysterious pinky-ringed millionaire host of lavish parties by the shore in West Egg, Long Island (read Great Neck). But it's always a thankless cipher role, as Gatsby keeps repeating "old sport" to narrator Carraway, well-played by Maguire, who gets to make something of a comeback here, while DiCaprio could earn some of the critical scorn that was heaped on Robert Redford for his performance in the excoriated 1974 Jack Clayton version (which nonetheless made money for Robert Evans' Paramount Pictures). (Maureen Dowd's column on Gatsby's enduring appeal here, TOH's "Gatz" review here.)

DiCaprio tries to express Gatsby's obsessive love for Carraway's callow cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan, beating out a bevy of competitors), who emerges out of billowing white curtains to give her best line: "I hope she'll be a fool. That's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."


  • Emily | May 6, 2013 8:19 PMReply

    I was so pleased to see a review by Anne Thompson. I like her reviews, commentaries, and podcasts. I like the way her writing is informed and even-handed while still retaining enthusiasm. What I would like to see in TOH (Thompson On Hollywood) is more of Anne Thompson's writing.

  • madonna | May 6, 2013 7:23 AMReply

    Why are they still allowing Anne Thompson to write revews? She has literally nothing new to say, ever. Just a copy of more high profile critics. Yawn.

  • Tom Brueggemann | May 6, 2013 11:33 AM

    This review was posted at the same time as the initial trade ones came out, so there was nothing to copy.

  • Gatsbylove | May 6, 2013 4:00 AMReply

    So it's a bromance movie.... Great, no thanks.

  • xiaz | May 6, 2013 2:21 AMReply

    Is Carey Mulligan a possible candidate for Best Actress in this film? How does it hold up against Moulin Rouge per say?

  • Tom Brueggemann | May 6, 2013 11:32 AM

    If she were to compete, it would be as supporting, not lead.

  • Jo | May 6, 2013 5:54 AM

    I saw it. She isn't. I thought she was quite poor.

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