Review: Bloated, slow but visually impressive 'The Great Gatsby' underwhelms

Review: Bloated, slow but visually impressive 'The Great Gatsby' underwhelms

For all the meaningful thematic messages, its all-star cast, star-studded soundtrack and a director famed for his ability of inject infectious energy into love stories, 'The Great Gatsby' is ultimately ... underwhelming.

In short: At the height of the Roaring Twenties, a mysterious millionaire throws lavish parties, as his many guests wonder who exactly Jay Gatsby is or why he throws such large events. (watch the trailer)

The latest from director Baz Luhrmann isn't as unbearable as 'Australia,' but it isn't anywhere as energized and fun as 'Moulin Rouge' or 'Romeo + Juliet.'

To the credit of 'Gatsby,' this is an incredibly beautiful film to look at. The cinematography is grand in scale and flush with a vibrant palette. Just about every frame would make a great souvenir still of the movie. The intimate moments are close, the establishing shots are epic and the lively party scenes are packed with a pure kinetic energy.

That said, paying the extra fee to see 'Gatsby' in 3D is a waste of money. Most of the film is essentially people talking in mansions - the few scenes where 3D make sense simply do not justify the 3D scenes. Great 3D cinematic experiences make viewers either A) feel like they're actually in the scenes (ie, 'Avatar') or B) adds a compelling depth-of-field to action scenes (ie, 'Star Trek Into Darkness'). 'Gatsby' does neither, thus making its 3D scenes mostly a novelty not worth the 3D premium.

The strength of 'Gatsby' is creating a work of pure excess. This film doesn't just gloss over the fact that 'Gatsby' takes place during the Roaring Twenties - it revels in the wholly irresponsible decadence of parties, wealth and power brokers. Luhrmann wonderfully captures the essence of a world without responsibility. Its rich soundtrack of modern stars - including Beyonce, Lana del Rey and Gotye - makes this excess relatable to 2013 audiences.

Unfortunately, all these aesthetics wrap around an unfulfilling love story that drags on and made more irritating by odd plot twists and annoying characters.

When people say a movie is "too long," what is really being said is "the film doesn't justify its running time." The 'Great Gatsby' has a 2 hour, 23 minute running time - and this is simply too long for the few plot points involved. In drawing out the mystery of Gatsby's motivations and history, Luhrmann only succeeds removes the excitement of a secret revealed and replaces it with an impatience for answers withheld just a little too long. Combine this bloated running time with the fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel is barely a compact 192 pages long, and it's clear Luhrmann's vision of 'Gatsby' has fat to trim.

Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is simply not interesting enough of a character, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) is far too thinly developed and her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) is far too over-the-top, even for a Luhrmann antagonist. For example, going out of the way to note that Tom Buchanan is a white supremacist is never paid off - his racism is never converted into a meaningful narrative conflict or choice, it simply says 'Tom is the bad guy.'

Then there's Myrtle (Isla Fisher), who basically shows up for a couple of scenes. The first scenes establishes one character's low morals, while the other (at the height of the third act) is a decision that seems more like random/poor storytelling than genuine character-driven drama.

The stakes of any story are only made worthwhile or dramatic if the filmmaker takes the time to establish what is at stake and why these stakes are important to the character or story. It's never clear what makes Daisy so irresistible or worth fighting for - she's simply a pretty girl who glides in and out of frame. DiCaprio's execution of a charismatic protagonist with an idealized vision is wonderful, but Luhrmann does him no favor by surrounding DiCaprio's rich performance against a rather thin cast of characters.

Daisy isn't just portrayed as an idiot, which would be fine - except most of her decisions and actions occur off-screen. It's one thing to be frustrated by a characters actions (some characters are supposed to be frustrating), but 'Gatsby' simply glosses over Daisy's actions. What's worse is it's Daisy's choices that dramatically change the story's direction and arguably frame the story's most important values.

Ultimately, these seemingly small film-making missteps result in a film where the audience doesn't so much care about how the story ends, just that the story resolves.

Final verdict: 'The Great Gatsby,' in Baz Luhrmann's hands becomes 'The Mediocre Gatsby.'

Score: 2/5

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