This review might be without value. Why? I am becoming increasingly aware that Baz Lurhman and I are not artistic friends. I didn’t like his Romeo and Juliet. At all. I hated it. I barely tolerated Moulin Rouge (though I valued some of its ingenuity). I feel about this one much the same.
Specifically, I dislike, flatly dislike, the soundtrack. Every time I heard booming, synthesized bass and 21st century style hip-hop, I was pulled out of the this period piece and left to wonder, “Why? Why are you playing this music? What is the artistic value?” I know hip-hop sets an impulsive, orgiastic tone. I’m just saying: you can get the same feeling from fast jazz, the music to which characters from that era might well have been listening.
I think some of the dialogue was over the top and hard to believe. Carey Mulligan’s Daisy saying things like, ‘I just hate everything. I am so pessimistic. I am terribly cyncical now. Nothing is good.’ are not the way people talk. At all. Perhaps this is taken right from the book, I don’t know. And I don’t care. I don’t like it in a 21st century film.
We are told several times that Dicaprio’s Gatsby is the most hopeful person our narrator, Tobey Maguire’s Carraway, has ever met. We are told this. Okay. But what we see is an angry, obsessive, controlling and marginally delusional extrovert who might just be an emotional coward and/or a psychopath. We do not see hope. We see a little crazy.
Many of the film’s best opportunities to showcase emotion are killed by exposition and voice over. Really, this might be the worst use of voice over and reflective framing that I can remember seeing in long time. Just when the actors were about to do something with the screenplay, just when the actors (all of them individually talented and effective) were about to make you feel, Luhrman has Maguire’s voice over step in and summarize what the characters are feeling.
Which is to say that Luhrman is guilty, at several turns, of telling instead of showing. He tells me about Gatsby’s hope. He tells me that Tom feels both his mistress and wife slipping away. He tells me that, while in the asylum, Maguire’s Nick is angry and depressed. But he only lets me see these emotions on sparse occasion and so I always feel at arm’s length from the characters. And that keeps me at arm’s length from the film.
All of these negative things stated, I will say that every actor is very good. If the director had let them, they could have been even better. Dicaprio is fantastic as Gatsby. It is when he’s on the screen that this film has real vibrancy. Mulligan is almost Leo’s equal in her portrayal of Daisy, a woman who so badly wants to feel loved and treasured, but who doesn’t quite have the stones to walk away from comfortable money even if it means remaining with a man she dislikes. Joel Edgerton (Tom) plays the villain, the stereotype of Old Money arrogance, and he plays it brilliantly, treading the fine line between caricature and personality. Even Maguire is good as Nick, in the role of the quiet observer who never quite knows how to deal with the crises the people around him create (not all that different from Ed Norton’s character in Fight Club).
So yes. The actors are great.
I just wish the director had gotten out of their way and let his amazing cast carry the film to the emotional depths they were clearly capable of taking it.