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The Great Gatsby: BD Review

Sep 26th, 2013

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Baz Luhrmann's Fitzgerald adaptation is beautifully bold and fancy-looking - is that enough...?

Warner / 143 Minutes / 2013 / Rated PG-13 / Street Date: August 27, 2013

The nicest thing even haters must admit about Baz Luhrmann movies is that even his least bombastic films are instantly recognizable a mile away. Never afraid to repeat himself as long as the end result is bigger-than-life and as expensive-looking as possible, Luhrmann movies throw everything but the kitchen sink at their viewers (quite literally, with this film’s 3D cinematic release) with hopes that at least a handful of these broad-stroked aggressions will stimulate something in those poor suckers being bombarded by Baz’s glitzy cinematic torrent.

Yet because Luhrmann is so steadfast in his insistence to keep the bravura of The Great Gatsby operating at 125% capacity, he loses any opportunity to mine any semblance of nuance or subtlety. I’ll be the first to admit that it certainly seems like subtlety is the last thing on the guy’s mind as an artist, but even with sensational on-screen co-conspirators doing their best to humanize their tale, a movie like this one simply follows artifice with artifice without ever stopping to investigate or contemplate its shimmering, fleeting virtues.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is loosely and unceremoniously adapted here that hardly follows anything more than a Cliff’s Notes plot bullet-point version of the book. There’s Nick Carroway (Tobey Maguire), the alcoholic with a tumultuous connection to the ups and downs of society, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), the winking bachelor who throws galas at his labyrinthine home that are grandiose to a fault, and – of course – Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and Tom (Joel Edgerton), who figure into the overall arc of the story in constantly evolving and transformative ways.

But again: Luhrmann doesn’t appear to give a rip about holding fast to The Great Gatsby as a story. This is a movie made by an extravagant filmmaker about extravagance, but even though the thing looks like the most glamorously expensive movie ever made, its diamond-cut brilliance feels not only empty, but flippantly so. A testament to Fitzgerald’s novel is that it still feels somehow current and culturally imperative – Luhrmann’s movie reduces this value to quick-cut dramatic hollowness.

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