Hugo says just about everything interesting there is to say about Gatsby here (and himself links to Richard Brody, who covers the remainder), but I thought I’d add my meager insights below.
I was never too crazy about Gatsby the book (more of a Winter Dreams man myself), but it would seem that any worth it holds lies in the unique perspective it offers on its subjects. Luhrmann’s version willfully fails to offer any perspective on the characters, the source material, anything – it lives entirely within the dullest most trite stories its characters tell themselves. This is underscored by the selection of one of the least self-aware figures in modern media (Jay-Z) as executive producer/music supervisor. Hove’s music and rhymes wander in periodically, clearly intended as a kind of decadent assault but evoking nothing more than yawns. By the time Lana Del Rey, herself no stranger to good times in Long Island, stumbles in with the embarrassingly earnest love theme, it’s clear Luhrmann has no clue what to do with this material whatsoever.
The movie’s problems are best analogized for me within one scene towards the end – Gatsby, having just aided in the killing of Myrtle, sits with Nick, telling him of his beautiful dreams and ambition. The camera pushes in on Tobey Maguire’s admiring face, the score swells, and – wait, didn’t a woman just get violently killed like thirty minutes ago? Why the fuck is Nick just sitting there smiling? He saw the body! To the extent that this scene makes any sense at all, it’s in the peculiar cocktail of shock, sociopathy and Stockholm Syndrome it depicts. But nobody told Jay-Z, who layers on the syrup as we smile with Nick at this great self-made man (who, again, just helped commit vehicular manslaughter).
There’s some interesting stuff in here about Nick as watcher vs. Nick as participant, but the movie itself has no idea how to adjudicate which approach is appropriate at which time. We get to watch a bit at the beginning, but by the end it’s all intense close-ups and over-crafted drama. 2013 has brought me two great cinematic experiences thus far – Spring Breakers and To The Wonder – both of which knew when to watch and when to dive in. I’m starting to think that understanding this distinction, even if only on an intuitive level, is a basic requirement for engaging filmmaking.
But Gatsby is dull as dishwater. When I wasn’t trying to figure out where I’d seen the actress who plays Jordan Baker before (turns out she’s a dead ringer for Rooney Mara), I was busy composing this post in my head. The guy next to me in the theater slept through the whole thing. Here’s to him.