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

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 6, 2013 at 1:04AM

"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.
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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."

This article is related to: Reviews, The Great Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Baz Luhrmann, Cannes Film Festival


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.