Like its title character, 'The Great Gatsby' tries to do too much

Published: Friday, May 10 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Leonardo Dicaprio stars as Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan in Warner Bros. Pictures’ "The Great Gatsby." (Warner Bros.) Leonardo Dicaprio stars as Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan in Warner Bros. Pictures’ "The Great Gatsby." (Warner Bros.)

Director Baz Luhrmann’s new adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” is visually stunning, but ultimately the film feels disjointed because of its inability — or perhaps unwillingness — to acknowledge the tragic consequences of excessive consumption.

The film clocks in at 143 minutes. During those two-plus hours, “Gatsby” can be subdivided into two very distinct parts. For the first 50 or so minutes, the audience is treated to various scenes of riotous Jazz Age revelry through the lens of Luhrmann, the Australian director who still exhibits the same visual flair and distinct color palette that earned him acclaim with “Romeo and Juliet” (1996) and “Moulin Rouge” (2001). Throughout all the partying there is no nudity or swearing, but alcohol consumption and adultery run rampant.

The final 90 minutes of Luhrmann’s “Great Gatsby” is a fairly faithful treatment of the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, as Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) tries to move heaven and earth to regain the affections of former flame Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). But Gatsby’s best-laid plans end in tragedy. Fitzgerald’s famous last line in the book — and also the epitaph on his tombstone — succinctly summarizes Gatsby’s plight: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

There’s no question that Luhrmann deliberately conjured every detail of his “Great Gatsby.” Indeed, his official website includes a list of “research material” for “The Great Gatsby” that is so extensive the New York Times declared “(it) amounts to a grad school seminar on Fitzgerald” and Luhrmann “(has) a textual or historical justification for just about everything in the movie.”

Even though the two “parts” of the film succeed at setting the scene and unraveling a tragedy, respectively, the movie purposely avoids exploring or even acknowledging the very real possibility that Jay Gatsby’s overreliance on material wealth may have directly led to his unhappy ending. In other words, the thematic disconnect between the beginning and end of the film is so glaring that Luhrmann’s “Gatsby” feels more like two different episodes of a mini-series running back-to-back, instead of one overarching entity benefiting from the coordinated contributions of core components.

“The Great Gatsby” is rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language.

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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