So when filmmakers assert in an opening credit that their version of “The Great Gatsby” is an adaptation, they usually mean “ego trip.” Such is the sad case with the current version, directed by Australian Baz Luhrmann. Luhrmann souped it up with a 3rd dimension, here totally unnecessary, but once he gets done with the pyrotechnic party scenes and the screaming-yellow Duesenberg, he plods through the rest of the story (granted, it’s not Fitzgerald’s nimblest wordsmithing to start with).
Jay Gatsby lives in a grand mansion. Rumors swirl that he is a murderer or, maybe, a gambler. He throws parties every weekend to which guests just appear to sponge up the booze and ambience. Only one man gets an invitation: writer Nick Carraway, the poor, hapless, young, Midwestern veteran living in the carriage house near by. Nick is Daisy’s cousin, a conduit.The Great Gatsby is Nick’s story, told here as therapy later in 1924 from a sanitarium. Nick falls half in love with Gatsby, the single most optimistic person he’s ever met. Gatsby’s optimistic because he sure he can win back the heart and mind of Daisy Buchanan. She’d loved him, but she gave him up for a man with money, so Gatsby set out to make money.
Leonard diCaprio does a yeoman’s work as the rich man, but he is not fluid. Tobey Maguire never catches hold of Nick, playing him more as nebbish than as innocent. Only at the end does Carey Mulligan understand that Daisy is a careless render of hearts and souls. Joel Edgerton gives the right angle to Tom Buchanan, and Jason Clarke is good as the cuckolded Wilson with Isla Fisher playing his wife and Tom’s declasse mistress, Myrtle. Edgerton and Clarke also menaced in “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Luhrmann wrote the screenplay with Craig Pearce -- they also shared credits for “Moulin Rouge!” and “Strictly Ballroom.” Luhrmann lit Nick’s cottage as if he were Thomas Kinkead in the colors of old post cards. The Valley of the Ashes is there, the eye doctor’s symbolic billboard is there. Luhrmann even has Nick’s writing appear on the screen graphically. But for all the filmic gymnastics, Luhrmann just doesn’t get it. His 160-minute “Gatsby” is more doozy than Duesenberg, all style with laborious substance.