If you have seen how Mr Baz Luhrmann looks in the publicity photos you will get a clue as to how this film is likely to turn out.He looks like he just walked out of Gatsby’s party, not a hair out of place.The look is easy enough to achieve, an afternoon in Saks Fifth Avenue and can sort you out, the characters in his 140 minutes long fashion show look like they have been having fittings with Valentino and Ralph Lauren all week before ruining it all, doing what do in this picture.This provides faint amusement, the way FTV does sporadically, that we have actual film-star’s who know more about nutrition than anorexic models help, but not the film.
I was looking forward to a motion picture an alluring as its title. Undoubtedly, I had Citizen Kane doing a little twirl in my head, after all a reclusive billionaire in a fairytale mansion in early 20th century America has no stronger iconography. From Coleridge’s opium induced poem Kubla Khan and his Xanadu to Citizen Kane, from Titanic to Wizard of Oz, to his own Moulin Rouge! Mr Luhrmann borrows generously and then amps it up with CGI and some cool music. I am sure there is a lot of the iconic novel in here, in fact I am informed plot-wise he has been slavishly faithful.So with a really earnest and hardworking performance from its cast lead by the formidable Leonardo DiCaprio, why does this film fall flat? In the first one hour I wanted him to direct the next children’s fantasy, so saturated and electrifying were the set pieces of the party and shots of New York as an emerging wonderland.By the end I was praying that no studio executive will let him near a children’s film, so disconnected he is with any genuine emotions in the film.
This film is so preoccupied with its style and pomp, its designer elements, its obsession to ravish our senses with an expensive broadway musical sensibility that it forgets about the characters completely.They are clotheshorses and props in his hand, not real life people with everyday problems like love and longing and insecurity.A couple of scenes really work between Gatsby and his friend Nick played by Tobey Maguire, there is a feeling of genuine camaraderie between them(they are childhood friends in real life), but this spark gets properly doused under all the bedazzlement on the surface.
I brought no literary baggage to the screening, I have not read the novel with themes of the excesses of the jazz age, a cautionary tale about the Great American Dream, and old versus new money one more ill gotten than the other.That the novel was a flop when it came out and even by the time Fitzgerald died in 1940 it remained so, sending him to the grave an unfulfilled man much like its hero, its triumphant resurgence tells us that it had material which eventually touched a deep chord in readers and was much ahead of its time.Perhaps the events and mood of the novel could be understood only with the passage of time, the hardships of the great depression and the horrors of WW2.If The Great Gatsby, the movie had been done well we may have been able to relate it to the excesses of Wall Street and the megalomania CEO’s like Lehman’s Mr Dick Fuld. But this one is like a toxic derivative, deriving its notional value from a worthy underlying asset namely the great novel and leaving its ultimate buyers, us the unsuspecting audience, completely in the so called lurch, with its manipulativeness.
After watching his only half credible film till date- Moulin Rouge! I thought to myself, “This guy has been watching Bollywood films”.He should have gone to Bollywood and become an apprentice to an established director there who knows how to make these opulent stylish musicals and after this debacle the advise still holds.Nothing like learning from the masters and they too may gain from his technical wizardry and fat wallet.His 2008 film Australia was a monumental yawn, it did not do much for Australian tourism either as was fervently hoped.
Mr DiCaprio should give the intense billionaire part a long break, he was immensely enjoyable in Django Unchained in a tuxedo (in fact its only highlight) and is very dishy here in his pink linen summer suite.Carey Mulligan is being exploited by directors who want to film her exquisite face in close ups way more than is good for her career and show her rheumy eyed, her lips slightly quivering with some intense deeply buried pain.Elizabeth Debiki as Jordan Summers is some statuesque eye candy when the proceedings turn interminably drab. Amitabh Bachchan is clearly wasted in a role which does not advance the plot much and only adds to the overwrought exotic feel of the picture.And yes he has not arrived in Hollywood, far from it!
This film was wisely yanked out of the Oscar awards season release in December 2012 where it would have sunk without a trace.That’s a high stakes game, a summer release in 3D with a multimillion ad campaign with a Cannes premier thrown in is a much better bet to recoup its investment of 100 million odd USDs.Harvey Eagleton of The Dallas Morning News wrote of the novel “One finishes Great Gatsby with a feeling of regret, not for the fate of the people in the book, but for Mr. Fitzgerald.”
He may have been proven wrong ultimately but I had the same feeling after watching this film.