First Reviews on ‘The Great Gatsby’: Tough Break, Old Sport
Maybe, if you have Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead and Baz Luhrmann whipping the material into a spectacular big screen frenzy. But the initial reviews suggest Luhrmann's take on "The Great Gatsby" isn't likely to be the massive hit Warner Bros. was hoping for, at least not with critics.
The initial reviews on Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's jazz age classic about a self-made millionaire's search for his lost love, which opens in theaters on May 10, so far features one genuinely enthusiastic notice (with certain reservations) from Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter, while the other reviews so far range from mixed to downright hostile.
Nearly everyone has a strong opinion about director Luhrmann's extravagant style, filled with loud music, lavish costumes, and constant movement of both characters and the cameras. McCarthy, unlike many, believes this works to the story's advantage. "As is inevitable with the Australian showman, who's never met a scene he didn't think could be improved by more music, costumes, extras and camera tricks, this enormous production begins by being over-the-top and moves on from there," McCarthy writes. "But, given the immoderate lifestyle of the title character, this approach is not exactly inappropriate, even if it is at sharp odds with the refined nature of the author's prose."
McCarthy goes on to say, "No matter how frenzied and elaborate and sometimes distracting his technique may be, Luhrmann's personal connection and commitment to the material remains palpable, which makes for a film that, most of the time, feels vibrantly alive while remaining quite faithful to the spirit, if not the letter or the tone, of its source."
However, what McCarthy sees as the film's greatest asset is its most serious flaw, according to Scott Foundas at Variety. "What Luhrmann grasps even less than previous adapters of the tale is that Fitzgerald was, via his surrogate [Nick] Carraway, offering an eyewitness account of the decline of the American empire, not an invitation to the ball," Foundas writes. "But Luhrmann identifies far more strongly with [Jay] Gatsby than he does with Nick, and instead of a tragic figure undone by his false optimism and unrequited yearning, the character becomes an object of envy —someone whose swank mansion and runway couture would be awfully nice to call one’s own. So the champagne flows like monsoon rain and the wild parties roar. Who cares if you’re doomed to meet an untimely end, so long as you go out looking fabulous?"
The often-acerbic David Denby at The New Yorker has even less use for Luhrmann's flash and filigree. "Luhrmann’s vulgarity is designed to win over the young audience, and it suggests that he’s less a filmmaker than a music-video director with endless resources and a stunning absence of taste," Denby writes.
Anne Thompson at IndieWire thinks "The Great Gatsby" works as eye candy, writing, "If Luhrmann's cameras swooped and whirled in 'Moulin Rouge,' their digital counterparts fly in 'Gatsby,' skimming along the shimmering waters of Long Island Sound, above the skyscrapers of Manhattan and over Jay Gatsby's gleaming yellow roadster speeding down the roadways between the city and his gold turreted West Egg mansion."