Thursday, September 26, 2013

The year's (the decade's?) most embarrassing, unnecessary film: Baz Luhrmann's crap GATSBY

I know people who actually enjoyed this movie, which we finally caught up with last evening. And even though Moulin Rouge was a ridiculous mess and Australia a ridiculous bore, I still held out some hope. No longer. THE GREAT GATSBY sure looks pretty, in a constantly overdone manner (that's the point, right?) -- but Baz Luhrmann (shown below) has managed to take everything melodramatic and silly in Fitzgerald's famous novel and place it front-and-center. And the guy still hasn't learned that you either show or tell, but for fuck's sake, not both--at the same time!

After the first half-hour, I was sure I would be departing midway. Yet I stayed through the end credits, mostly hypnotized by the badness on display yet wondering just how much worse things could get. Very, it turns out. From the crap contemporary music Luhrman (or his eye-on-the-youth-market producers) have chosen, to the accents from half the cast that run from the American south to British and Australian (sometimes within the same character!) to the silly show-and-tell moments to the piss-poor acting from people who are always better than this -- the movie is like a crude shock dressed up in its Sunday best with no place to go. And whenever (often, actually) the director is at a loss for where to place that camera, his fairy godmother appears to have whispered in his ear: "Shoot from above, honey!"

TrustMovies must admit to being one of those crotchety old fogeys who didn't much like the book the first time he read it (nor the second; there will be no third). Fitzgerald's stripping away of so much of the frou-frou found in other novels of its time may have been a good thing in theory, but it left, in my estimation, a distinct lack of character to just about all the characters. Gatsby is supposed to be mysterious, but F. Scott does pile it on. And Luhrman takes that pile and turns it into a slag heap.

Leonardo DiCaprio (above, doing that long-distance-gazing trick) was either a much better actor as a very young man or his later choice of projects and directors has failed him badly. Here, he resonates almost nothing of any consequence. (Still, he's a better actor than Robert Redford is and was, so this Gatsby is at least several shades less boring.) Carey Mulligan (above, emoting) has proven herself an accomplished actress time and again, but compare her work here with that in Never Let Me Go (or just about anything else she's done) -- and be amazed. Every acting choice is the most obvious one. This must be the fault of Luhrmann.

Supporting performances are on the same level. Tobey Maguire (above, center left) ought to have been a fine choice for Nick Carraway, but set this role against what he does in, say, The Details, and you see an actor ensconced in utterly mediocre dialog, under the hand of a director who can do no more than produce the occasional, colorful flash.

In fact, the movie often seems to be drowning in CGI effects -- above (nice juxtaposition of glamour and dirt) and below (look: it's Disney's magic kingdom!), some of which are indeed beautiful, but all of which simply add to the artificiality on display. Where's the heart here? The humanity? Luhrmann managed to leave some of this in his adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, before he had completely given over to special effects and flash-n-splash. His best movie remains his first: Strictly Ballroom. From there, he's come down a notch or ten with each new endeavor -- and Gatsby's the nadir. Might there be a silver lining? Of course: From here, the guy can only climb back up.

The Great Gatsby -- from Warner Bros. and running an unconscionable 2 hours and 23 minutes -- has been out on DVD and VOD for a month now; Netflix was just allowed to send members its copies this week: Talk about "restraint of trade." (And yes, I am breaking my rule of only covering what's on Netflix streaming because this movie, seen in all its fake glory on Blu-ray, made me so damned angry.)

All photos are from the film itself, 
with the exception of Mr. Luhrmann's, 
which is by Frederick M. Brown
courtesy of Getty Images.

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