Baz Luhrmann misses the complexities of ‘The Great Gatsby’

Leonardo DiCaprio is a very good, possibly not great, Gatsby in "The Great Gatsby." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Leonardo DiCaprio is a very good, though possibly not great, Gatsby in “The Great Gatsby.”
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

‘The Great Gatsby’
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

It’s both tragic and nastily enjoyable when people who don’t understand lit classics turn them into films. The funniest part about Baz Luhrmann’s amusingly inappropriate 3-D-plus-Jay-Z film of “The Great Gatsby” comes right at the end. Judgmental but ineffectual blank slate Nick (Tobey Maguire) has been jotting down the novel’s/film’s events, and his musings are eloquent and incisive enough, it appears, to justify being a book. He writes the title: “Gatsby.” But a sentimental mood overtakes him — the loss of a man (Leonardo DiCaprio) whose decency stood out amid a society of cads. So Nick adds “The Great.”

Baz couldn’t even crack open the Cliffs Notes? The idea that the title is not loaded, that it is in fact completely sincere, betrays a dereliction of duty. This capper is the film’s dumbest, forehead-slappiest moment. The rest is brain-drained and simplified, but almost disappointingly inoffensive, even with Bryan Ferry’s jazz-tinged renditions of rap songs blasting as flappers guzzle martinis. Luhrmann’s excess, as Luhrmann will tell you, is almost defensible when portraying a Roaring Twenties bacchanalia.

But he mostly keeps a lid on it. The 3-D isn’t overdone, and is even sometimes well done. The green light from across the harbor, separating Gatsby from Daisy (Carey Mulligan), his unobtainable beloved, gets an extra dimension of longing and impossibility when given a third dimension, especially a fake one. The technology is mostly used on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s actual words, which periodically float onto the screen when they’re uttered — as though Luhrmann could possess their meaning by literally throwing it on the screen, in comin’-at-ya 3-D.

He can’t, in part because he seems to think of “Gatsby” as a sad love story, with Daisy simply kept from Gatsby by mean Tom (Joel Edgerton, a fine actor miscast — although you try to beat Bruce Dern’s spot-on turn in the 1974 version). Luhrmann’s version is faithful to the narrative — not hard when you have 2 ½ hours to tackle a slender work — but without understanding its complexities. Riotous, time-warpy parties and all, Baz plays it straight, or as straight as one can when his actors always look like they’re standing in front of green screen. (Or in Maguire’s case, just staring, mouth mildly agape. A thankless role is the one he was born to play.) Every image looks artificial, and the actors are directed to act like animatronic versions of themselves, to fit in. Only DiCaprio makes it out alive. Where Robert Redford, in the ’74 one, looked the part, DiCaprio does that and nails the desperation, the sketchiness, the charisma and the reckless passion.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 22,…

The Percy Sutton Harlem 5K and NYC Family Health Walk-a-thon and Pakistan Day Parade and Fair will cause traffic delays and street closures in New York City this weekend. Plan…

International

U.N. nuclear inquiry on Iran seen making slow…

The U.N. nuclear watchdog appears to have made only limited progress so far in getting Iran to answer questions about its suspected atomic bomb research, diplomatic sources said on Friday,…

National

Violence-weary Missouri town sees second night of calm

By Nick Carey and Carey GillamFERGUSON Mo. (Reuters) - The violence-weary town of Ferguson, Missouri, saw a second straight evening of relative calm on Thursday…

National

Journalist James Foley's parents, after call with pope,…

The parents of James Foley, the American journalist killed by Islamic State militants in Iraq, on Friday called for prayer and support to free the remaining captives held by Islamic…

Television

Recap: 'The Knick,' Season 1, Episode 3, 'The…

The third episode of Steven Soderbergh's "The Knick" finds Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) meeting an old flame and other characters embracing self-destruction.

Music

Webcast: Watch Polyphonic Spree live on Sunday Aug.…

Polyphonic Spree singer Tim DeLaughter sits with Metro Music Editor Pat Healy for a chat and then the big band performs live. It begins on Sunday at 9:30 pm

Movies

Matthew Weiner on directing 'Are You Here' and…

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner discusses his movie "Are You Here," his history writing comedy and the tiny movie he directed in 1996 you can't see.

Movies

Michael Chiklis on his football past and 'When…

Michael Chiklis remembers playing football in high school and how that prepped him to play a coach in "When the Game Stands Tall."

NFL

Fantasy football draft guide: How to draft your…

Many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Giants storylines to watch

The Giants have plenty to work on as they reach the dress rehearsal preseason game Friday night against the rival Jets.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Jets storylines to watch

Metro looks at three Jets storylines to watch as they play the Giants Friday.

NFL

Giants expected to work Corey Washington into first-team…

The day of reckoning for the Giants' fringe players will fall upon them Friday night against the Jets.

Sex

Big weddings may lead to long-term happiness

Dreaming of a big wedding? A new study indicates that the longer your guest list, the happier you’ll be in the long run. l A…

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…

Tech

Siren: A new dating app that puts women…

Online dating can be brutal, especially for single women. Noting that many women hate wading through inappropriate messages and photos, two tech entrepreneurs decided to…