Baz Luhrmann's Style Suffocates 'Gatsby'

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The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic, has been turned into a film five times. Morning Edition's reviewer says the latest version is nothing to brag about.


Let's go to the bigger screen. F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" has been turned into a film five times. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION critic Kenneth Turan says the latest version: nothing to brag about.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: It began on paper with that celebrated novel. And on paper "The Great Gatsby" still sounds like quite the film. It's only on screen that things start to fall apart. Leonardo DiCaprio takes the lead in this story of Jay Gatsby's star-crossed love. But director Baz Luhrmann's style suffocates any life this tale might have had. The year is 1922. And though everyone goes to Gatsby's wild Jazz Age parties out on Long Island, no one seems to know who he is.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Who is this Gatsby?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) He was a German spy during the war.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) A German spy?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) No, no, no, no. He's the Kaiser's assassin.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) I heard he killed a man once.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) It's true.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) Killed for fun, free of charge.

TURAN: Nick Carroway, the film's narrator, played by Tobey Maguire, finds himself by chance living next door to Gatsby. Nick is also related to Daisy Buchanan. And it turns out there was something between Gatsby and Daisy years ago, a feeling that Gatsby very much wants to recreate in the here and now.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (as character) Jay, you can't repeat the past.

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (as Jay Gatsby) Can't repeat the past?


DICAPRIO: Why, of course you can. Of course you can.

TURAN: The only character that comes off well here is DiCaprio's Gatsby. Once this aspirational man and his love for Daisy enter the picture, "The Great Gatsby" calms down as much as it can. It is way too little, however, and far too late. That's because director Luhrmann is a filmmaker who has increasingly made a fetish of excess and a religion of artificiality. He and his team pile on the spectacle and the glitter until we are gasping for air. It's also chaotic. You hardly notice that the soundtrack is filled with anachronistic songs by 21st century performers like Jay-Z and Lana Del Ray.


TURAN: Parallel problem, as if this film needed one, is that Luhrmann's direction of his actors cudgels the last bit of naturalness out of it. If you believe that artifice is the new reality, that cliche is the way to approach truth, I've got a film for you.


GREENE: This is NPR News.

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