As a tale of loss and love, of obsession and champagne and fraud and violence and frenetic dancing, The Great Gatsby had all the potential for a stunning 21st century, One Percenter update. Luhrmann ALMOST went there with the soundtrack, which is current, blingy, basey and hip-hop. Unfortunately for the rest of the stuff, if you’ve seen Moulin Rouge you’ve seen it all before.
Swop pills for absynthe, the Gatsby mansion for the riotous Red Windmill, the struggling writer Tobey for the struggling writer Ewan, and even the feckless Satine for the callow, cruel, pale skinned Daisy – it was like he decided to go back to what he was good at, having side-tracked into melodrama with widely panned Australia.
Leonardo is fantastic, I’ll admit, but he styles Gatsby as an embittered, unsavoury, Talented-Mr.Ripley-kind-of- Jack Dawson – if Jack hadn’t sunk on the Titanic, and Rose left him for the money and social status. The party scene was sheer, riotous brilliance, but otherwise the characters are vile and unlikeable and impossible to care about and many of the exteriors look like cartoons. Most of the time it’s like a very cool 90 minute music video with all the songs turned down.
Don’t get me wrong, I really didn’t hate it – I felt I was experiencing a story uniquely told through cinema. I enjoyed playing Spot-The-Aussie (Gatsby filmed in Sydney.) But I felt dirty afterwards. Scott F. Fitzgerald only sold 24000 copies of The Great Gatsby in his lifetime. Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic version has already topped the $100 million dollar mark in the first couple of weeks of global sales. There’s something tragic about that.