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'The Great Gatsby' is an over-the-top misfire

'The Great Gatsby,' directed by Baz Luhrmann, tries too hard to update the story and piles on the party scenes.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / May 9, 2013

'The Great Gatsby' stars Leonardo DiCaprio (l.) and Carey Mulligan (r.).

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/AP

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If I were to choose the film director least temperamentally suited to adapt “The Great Gatsby,” heading my list would be Baz Luhrmann, the Australian impresario who gave us the assaultive “Moulin Rouge!” and “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet,” which was anything but the Bard’s.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great novel has been filmed five times before, most notably (egregiously?) in 1974, starring Robert Redford as the enigmatic Jazz Age bootlegger and world-class romantic Jay Gatsby. In that performance Redford seemed to be confusing “enigmatic” with “blank.”

One clear advantage to this Luhrmannized version is that, although Leonardo DiCaprio may be miscast, and although he appears at times not quite old enough to shave, at least he’s not drearily enigmatic. He has his many moods, dark and ethereal and extra crispy, and, given how Gatsby is constantly reinventing himself anyway, this makes sense.

Almost nothing else in this sputtering Roman candle of a misfire does. Fitzgerald’s sensibility is delicately nuanced, but there’s steel in his melancholy. With Luhrmann, everything, not just the parties but the intimate scenes, turns into Mardi Gras. And, to make matters worse, he’s filmed everything (pointlessly) in 3-D. For a director who has trouble making us care about anything in 2-D, this takes chutzpah.

But, I can hear you ask, why must Luhrmann serve Fitzgerald? Shouldn’t he be able to reinvent this material just as Gatsby himself engineered his own make-over?

Well, if Luhrmann had a sustaining vision to match Fitzgerald’s, then perhaps he could be forgiven for turning a great novel about the American dream into a heap of glittering shards. Or turning the Roaring ’20s into the Boring ’20s.

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