Amer­i­can dream

Leonardo DiCaprio un­picks Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby for Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE - JIM CAR­ROLL

We worry too much about the faith­ful­ness of adap­ta­tions. If the folk who made For­bid­den Planet can, with such suc­cess, trans­plant

The Tem­pest to outer space, then we can en­dure the oc­ca­sional tweak to our Dick­ens and the odd poke at our Hardy. All we ask is that the film suc­ceed on its own terms. You are pre­pared to be rea­son­able? Glad to hear it.

So what in the name of fudge is this thing? You don’t watch Baz Luhrmann’s det­o­na­tion of F Scott Fitzger­ald’s The Great Gatsby; you get beaten up by it. A glance at even a few sec­onds of the trailer will alert you to a jar­ring (if ex­pected) shift in tone. Whereas the book was an el­e­gantly struc­tured ex­er­cise in so­cial nu­ance, the film ca­reers from ex­cess to ex­cess be­fore top­pling into an­other pud­dle of ex­cess. The temp­ta­tion to ti­tle it Gatsby!!! must have been close to over­whelm­ing.

It would be most un­fair – though sat­is­fy­ing – to sug­gest that Luhrmann has taken the book into the loo and wiped his bum with it. In fact, the script sticks rea­son­ably close to Fitzger­ald’s plot. A lu­di­crous, tacked-on fram­ing se­quence does, how­ever, alert us to the im­pend­ing war on sub­tlety.

Nick Car­raway (Tobey Maguire), blank nar­ra­tor of book and film, is rest­ing in a sana­to­rium af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed as mor­bidly al­co­holic. We know this be­cause, within sec­onds of the film be­gin­ning, a stereo­typed psy­chi­a­trist writes the phrase “mor­bidly al­co­holic” at the top of his re­port. Per­haps, the doc­tor sug­gests, Nick might like to write his story down for us. Words ap­pear on the screen and we drift back to Long Is­land of the Pro­hi­bi­tion years.

Nick, of course, lives next door to a mys­te­ri­ous so­cialite named Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Over the course of a dis­so­lute sum­mer, Nick par­ties at the enigma’s house, be­comes his friend and ends up act­ing as an am­a­teur Cupid. Jay has long been in love with a del­i­cate so­cialite named Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mul­li­gan), now mar­ried to a boor­ish polo player, and is de­lighted to dis­cover that his new neigh­bour is the girl’s cousin. You know how this story goes, old sport.

What a bizarre pro­ject this is. Luhrmann and his team have im­mersed them­selves in the source ma­te­rial for four long years. Cather­ine Martin, the film’s de­signer, has laboured over eye-pop­ping sets con­structed from spun sugar and drugged dreams. Jay-Z has su­per­vised a sound­track that, util­is­ing col­lab­o­ra­tors such as Kanye West, Jack White and Bey­oncé, ploughs ag­gres­sively through a stag­ger­ing num­ber of quasi-con­tem­po­rary tunes that most of us were al­ready sick of three years ago.

The end re­sult of all this ef­fort is a film that looks and sounds ex­actly as you’d ex­pect a Baz Luhrmann en­ter­prise to look and sound. The de­layed re­veal of DiCaprio ex­em­pli­fies the folly very ef­fec­tively. Un­seen to this point, he twin­kles to­wards the cam­era and smiles lu­mi­nously as fire­works ex­plode to the strains of Ge­orge Gersh­win’s Rhap­sody in

Blue. The scene tells us noth­ing about Gatsby or his time but, as a trib­ute to the con­tin­u­ing fab­u­lous­ness of Baz Luhrmann, it works quite bril­liantly.

The Luhrmann patent prod­uct, show­cased most con­spic­u­ously here and in Moulin Rouge!, comes across as a class of bot­tled pre­serve that can be spread on any sur­face to de­liver much the same taste and tex­ture. The ab­surdly height­ened dig­i­tal land­scapes – less nat­u­ral­is­tic than those of Lord of the Rings – may at­tempt de­pic­tions of New York City and Long Is­land. But the film’s choppy rhythms, clean col­lars and

pound­ing MOR sounds lo­cate the ac­tion firmly in Luhrmann World. Smear this stuff on Jude the Ob­scure, The Great Es­cape or Sponge­Bob Square Pants and you’ll end up with much the same end prod­uct.

Does it work on its own febrile terms? Well, DiCaprio is nicely cast as a mag­nif­i­cent self-in­ven­tion, but he has some trou­ble fak­ing the fake ac­cent. Carey Mul­li­gan fails to make sense of a near-un­playable part. Joel Edger­ton never comes close to cap­tur­ing the pa­tri­cian self-pos­ses­sion of Daisy’s hus­band.

Their ef­forts are ir­rel­e­vant. So over­pow­er­ing is Luhrmann’s style – par­tic­u­larly in the breath­less first half – that the ac­tors never get a chance to stand out from the fur­ni­ture (which is very nice). It’s less a film than a com­pen­dium of Baz’s great­est tropes. His many fans will ap­prove. Oth­ers will find the ex­pe­ri­ence ut­terly suf­fo­cat­ing.

In­ter­scope ★★★

All-star film sound­tracks are op­por­tu­ni­ties to show­boat, and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Jay-Z takes full ad­van­tage of this. Aside from ri­fling through his con­tacts book, he also piv­ots it as “a Gatsby for the hip-hop age”, though you won­der how to square this aim with some of the cast, such as The xx and their som­no­lent, slo-mo min­i­mal­ism. Leav­ing the con­cept to one side, sev­eral cuts work be­yond the sound­track con­straints. Jigga’s own 100$ Bill is a solid med­i­ta­tion on the ups and downs of power; An­dré 3000 and Bey­oncé pitch down for a ver­sion of Amy Wine­house’s Back to Black; and Jack White’s take on U2’s Love Is Blind­ness revs the angst right up. Mean­while, Lana Del Rey’s Young & Beau­ti­ful re­minds you of her prow­ess when it comes to high­light­ing big-screen bal­lads. thegreatgatsby.warn­ Down­load: Jay-Z, 100$ Bill; Lana Del Rey, Young & Beau­ti­ful

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.