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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.
'The Great Gatsby'
'The Great Gatsby'

But these characters carry no fine romance, kissing in 3-D; the one who seems truly in love is Carraway--with Gatsby. Australian Joel Edgerton doesn't read blue-blood Yale Brahmin Tom Buchanan at first, but he's a strong enough actor to carry off the role--you believe that's he feels entitled to his polo-playing racist womanizing ways. And when push comes to shove, Buchanan is strong and rooted in a way that fantasizing, self-made, insecure Gatsby is not.

Edgerton's fellow Aussie Jason Clarke ("Zero Dark Thirty") is thrown away in a thankless supporting part as the cuckolded auto mechanic husband of Buchanan's ditzy mistress (Isla Fisher). And Bollywood great Amitabh Bachchan memorably cameos as Meyer Wolfsheim.

Finally, this is the kind of film where you hum the sets, as they say in Hollywood. It's outrageously designed by Luhrmann's wife, brilliant production designer Catherine Martin, who delivers the Gatsby manse's shining turrets, gleaming parquet floors, elaborate chandeliers and a mighty gold Wurlitzer organ, but should also earn an Oscar nomination for her gorgeous over-the-top costumes, including the Daisy Buchanan show-topper, a chandelier party dress designed by Miuccia Prada.

The film builds from an early small-scale Bacchanalia in a gaudy pink New York pied-a-terre to the giant-scale choreographed chaos of the Gatsby party centerpiece, the tour-de-force that makes the movie a must-see. "Large parties are so intimate," croons Carraway's lovely golfer pal Jordan Baker (newcomer Elizabeth Debicki).

At the party they join scads of dazzling fashionistas in intricate hats, indulge in flowing champagne and martinis, watch dancers high-kicking with giant feather fans, zebra floats in the pool, orchestra musicians in red fezes, floating giant butterflies, streaming confetti, and exploding fireworks-- all synced to George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."

But when Luhrmann returns for another round of parties, it's a letdown. Finally this overproduced slimmest of narratives becomes repetitive, at two hours and 23 minutes, as we revisit the sumptuous set pieces, Gatsby looking longingly across the water toward Daisy's glowing green dock, and hear yet another iteration of the morphing Gatsby backstory until, finally, we reach Fitzgerald's last words, from the novel: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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.