Baz Luhrmann’s take on the classic 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald begins as a hectic, malformed mishmash of what should be feature film editing, and eventually becomes something resembling a story. Just as many modern action films are shot with ultra fast cutting between different camera angles and shots, much like music videos, here Luhrmann applies the same technique, accentuated with glamour and flare, to drama, resulting in a nonsensical kaleidoscopic headache, and just as he applied modern music to Bohemian Paris in ‘Moulin Rouge!’, which worked well, here we find pop and r&b where we should be listening to the big bands of the Roaring Twenties in New York City. It jars badly. Not until the director actually decides to let his actors act after about forty five minutes does the film get in the slightest bit interesting, and although the set design up until then is indeed spectacular, quite why they opted to go for authenticity with the look of the era, but not the defining music or the dancing (a little does find its way in), is a complete mystery.
How true to the source material the story is The Red Dragon cannot say, but this is ultimately the same core idea from Luhrmann’s previous films rehashed, that of a sweeping love story, here a triangle between Leonardo DiCaprio (Jay Gatsby) and Joel Edgerton (Tom Buchanan) over the affections of Carey Mulligan (Daisy Buchanan). Both the male leads are strong and work well opposed to each other as they are, but Mulligan barely registers an emotional response throughout, perhaps playing her somewhat hopeless character a little too close to the bone. Within this context the themes of obsession and fidelity, pride, arrogance and romantic idealism are explored in a reasonably interesting manner, managing to re-engage most of the audience after the overly indulgent beginning, but it sadly remains too little, too late, especially with a running time of 142 minutes.
The story is being told to us via the disaffected writing of Nick Carraway, played by Tobey Maguire, which to an extent can justify artistic licence with the film’s presentation, but not taking it to the gaudy extremes that are thrust upon us from the word go. In the sense that this is a tale told by a reluctant, introvert character admiring, and bedazzled, by another male full of showmanship and mystery, and yet still fundamentally flawed, this is very reminiscent of another, later, American classic novel – ‘On The Road’, with Sal Paradise there writing about Dean Moriarty. Similarly, both recall the dichotomy of the wonderful novel ‘Steppenwolf’, from Hermann Hesse and published not long after ‘The Great Gatsby’, with the insinuation that each of the sets of characters represent two parts of one man, his essence divided. Click here for a review of the even less worthy film adaptation of ‘On The Road’ with Kristen Stewart.
One of the better songs from the film …