Hello Old Sport,
I saw Baz Luhrmann new version of The Great Gatsby last night (finally). It was both exhilarating and disappointing, apparently due to Luhrmann’s desire to infuse the film with his sense of “hyper-realism”, (overly saturated colors, frenetically paced editing) weird film score which anachronistically jumbles hip-hop and jazz diminishing the power of both, over-reliance on digital special effects which were all too apparent, and a screenplay which finds it necessary to spell out for the audience the exact nature of just how Gatsby fell bass-ackward into all that money. Having said that, there is much to like about the film. Most of the casting is spot-on, leagues ahead of the disasterous Redford/Farrow film of 1974. One could not ask for a better Jay Gatsby than Leonardo DiCaprio who perfectly captures the slightly off-center charisma of the character, projecting confidence and authenticity while somehow leaving the impressions that something’s not quite adding up. Carrie Mulligan captures the radiant beauty of Daisy Buchanan, convincingly, and the audience readily succumbs to the infatuation that motivates Gatsby’s every move. The Tom Buchanan of Joel Edgerton is convincingly brutish and seductive; a perfect “bad boy”. Jordan Baker is portrayed with suitable vacuousness by Elizabeth Debicki. A special mention should go to Amitabh Bachchan as Meyer Wolfshein, a shady character with an unsettling quality of bringing a dark chaos to his one-on-ones with Gatsby and Nick. Which brings me to the one misfire: the casting of Nick Carraway. Tobe McGuire is easily outgunned in this film often shooting blanks when live acting-ammo is needed. The result is a washed-out, pitiful Nick instead of the young idealist against which the corruption of the principal characters stands in contrast.
Regarding the score, it seemed that Luhrmann mixed the music for two purposes: (1) commercial, to attract millennials to the movie, and (2) artistic, to show the universality of movie’s themes. The former succeeded but not so much the latter. One can think of Woody Allen using iconic Gershwin and jazz standards in many of his films to unhook his films from the contemporary setting they are often placed in. In a Woody Allen film this works since his scores are classical and iconic. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of the music used in the Gatsby film, and the artistic motive, if it even existed, is not realized.
In summary, Baz Luhrmann hasn’t made the definitive The Great Gatsby, but ups the ante considerably, mostly capturing the combustiable mixture of decadence, passion, and ambition that fueled F. Scott Fitzgerald’s imagination. Oh well, perhaps in another 40 years. But until then, we’ll beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.