The Great Gatsby
A novel of riches, of self-made men and the attempt to grasp a single, pure image of the past, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby has been previously thrice-filmed for the big screen. (There's also an unauthorized version titled Citizen Kane.)
"His determination to have my company bordered on violence," said Nick Carraway of Tom Buchanan, and that sums up the shaping of the new Baz Luhrmann version. It will be deemed a turkey, although it is actually a turducken—there wasn't room to stuff in any more cinematic motifs. Anachronistic music, intended to link yesteryear's gangster to today's mobster, is the least problem of this atrocity. The soundtrack rattles you out of the era, but the era has to be relentlessly explained to the viewer: "I hear he's related to Kaiser Wilhelm, the evil German king," says a flapper. (A Monroe line, but it's played seriously.) This Gatsby is a literal movie; 5-year-olds will know that the spectacles of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg are the eyes of God because they're told so.
The text literally floats onscreen in 3D motes like pollen. A wraparound device has Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire with slicked-back hair, looking like Bewitched's Dick York) as cracked up as Fitzgerald himself. Nick writes under the direction of a kindly therapist (the late Jack Thompson). In a smart movie, this doctor could have offered some counterpoint, some of the second thoughts that make for a deathless novel instead of a Jazz Age fossil.
Leonardo DiCaprio, too old for the part of Jay Gatsby, is introduced with a cloudburst of fireworks over his King Ludwig/Thomas Kincaid castle while "Rhapsody in Blue" crescendos; add in the zizzing of shooting stars a la Tinkerbell, and it's obvious that Lurhmann thinks of Gatsby as Walt Disney.
As Daisy, Cary Mulligan adds to her Manic Pixie Dream Girl repertoire a breakthrough Depressive Pixie Dream Girl. Elizabeth Debicki's Jordan (yes, yes, Internet, she is hot) has so little to do that she mostly stands around like a potted palm. Lurhmann directs her to be so mannish that if you met her socially, you'd be checking for an Adam's apple.
What went right here? The speed of the roadsters, dueling each other on dangerous roads. Someday, you'll meet a lit student who'll say, "No, but I saw the movie." He will feel that The Great Gatsby's moral is that it's important not to drive like an asshole.
PG-13; 143 min.