The first reviews of Baz Luhrmann’s highly anticipated The Great Gatsby are in – and most aren’t singing praise for the director’s interpretation of the American classic. 

The adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel will open the Cannes Film Festival on May 13, but US critics who have seen advance screenings of the film have so far been largely underwhelmed. 

Luhrmann comes under fire in particular for drowning the story in what Variety’s Scott Foundas describes as a “visual circus”. 

As The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde notes in his review, “The Great Gatsby is an immortal American tragedy, but the story's impact gets completely buried in Luhrmann's flash and dazzle.”

Foundas similarly writes, “Together with cinematographer Simon Duggan, he [Luhrmann] unleashes every manipulation he can think of — sepia flashbacks, smash zooms, split screens, superimpositions, period newsreel footage, new footage degraded to resemble period newsreel footage — all of it coming at you in three steroscopic dimensions.” Foundas, however, did previously admit that to criticise Luhrmann for overkill is “a bit like faulting a leopard for his spots.” 

Performances from the all-star cast drew mixed reviews with one surprise exception – Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki. 

“Only newcomer Elizabeth Debicki, who comes off like a combination of Rashida Jones and Kristin Scott Thomas, displays any kind of flair or even an approximation of humanity,” Duralde writes, while Foundas says, “By far the liveliest work in the film comes from two actors with only a few minutes of screen time between them: the lithe, long-limbed newcomer Elizabeth Debicki as gabby golf pro Jordan Baker, and, in a single scene that marks his belated Hollywood debut, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan as the flamboyant Jewish “gambler,” Meyer Wolfsheim.” 

Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Reporter also sings the actresses praise, noting, “Australian newcomer Elizabeth Debicki, who, with her towering slim build, black hair and pool-like blue eyes resembles an elongated Zooey Deschanel, is terrific as far as the part goes, but after a few prominent scenes up front, the character recedes.”

Impressions of DiCaprio’s golden-haired Gatsby varied wildly between solid thumbs up and thumbs down. 

“After a number of roles which, however well acted, may not have been comfortably in his wheelhouse, DiCaprio looks and feels just right as Gatsby; the glamor and allure as at one with his film star persona, he's sufficiently savvy to convince as a successful bootlegger but still young enough to recapture the hopes and innocence of youth,” writes McCarthy. 

Not so enamoured is Duralde, who scoffs, “DiCaprio has a fluctuating accent that often sounds like it's being delivered through a mouthful of marshmallows. DiCaprio's utterances of Gatsby's pet endearment "old sport" become more and more cringe-worthy with each repetition.”

Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway is largely accused of being generally dull while Casey Mulligan’s Daisy Buchanan received mixed reviews. 

“Mulligan is not elegantly beautiful, but she’s a touching actress, and, when Tom and Gatsby fight over Daisy, her face crumples and her eyes tear. Mulligan makes it clear how much Daisy is a shaky projection of male fantasy. The men struggle to possess her; she doesn’t possess herself,” writes David Denby of The New Yorker. 

Duralde isn’t as kind, stating, “The blank and reactive Maguire and Mulligan are cast as the blank and reactive Nick and Daisy, the result being such a vortex of nothing that they threaten to disappear from the screen entirely.”

Whether Gatsby will disappoint Australian audiences is yet to be seen, with the film’s premiere in the country scheduled for May 22. 

The Great Gatsby will hit Australian cinemas on May 30. 

View the trailer here: 

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1 Comment

  1. What a shock…the director who brought you Moulin Rouge and Australia delivers another air-headed sparkly dud.

    Why do the Murdochs, and successive governments keep bankrolling this post modernist remixing wank?!

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