October 1, 2013

The Boom

Boulevard of broken dreams.
The Great Gatsby (2013) is a brashly kinetic adaptation of a literary landmark. Filled with flaws of taste, it nonetheless has a primal power, balancing F. Scott Fitzgerald's lyricism with a eurotrash sensibility. Baz Luhrmann's direction goes beyond realism—beyond hyperrealism, even—into a garishly ornate romanticism, a jewel-encrusted, stylized vision of the 1920s as distant from reality as a fairy tale. Luhrmann makes the florid hysteria of Ken Russell (The Devils, The Music Lovers, Savage Messiah) seem tranquil by comparison. But Fitzgerald's poignancy and homespun longing elevate this movie above Russell's emotional barrenness.

Except for Leonardo DiCaprio (who's looking a little pudgy around the jowls), the cast was too tightly controlled by the iron-clamp production to be able to create human beings with believable idiosyncrasies—the kind of imperfections that allow a performance to breathe. The actors are largely props in marvelously explosive tableaus (New York looks like a Jules Verne creation, and the Art Deco mansions are steely, cartoonish Studio 54s). DiCaprio is able to do more than adopt Jazz Age poses. He navigates the mega-technology and whiz-bang camera successfully, and he steals a great many scenes (except perhaps those with his gorgeous Duesenberg, whose shimmering yellow coat of paint mirrors Gatsby's tailored suit). Gatsby's self-made man (in post-Horatio-Alger America—serendipitously mentored, financed, and launched) pulls you in deeply enough that you're fixated on the boulevard-of-broken-dreams corrupted hope theme, which could be the green light of our collective movie past.

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