Despite the promise of star wattage and spectacle in Baz Luhrmann's opulent 3D take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous tale of fast living in the Roaring Twenties, the Cannes film festival opened to noncommittal shrugs this morning at the first press screening of The Great Gatsby.
As the 143-minute film came to a close there was a respectful silence, followed by a smattering of polite applause after the initial production credits. Surprisingly, there were few boos, a state of affairs that can largely be ascribed to the fact that the film has been screened to most European critics and has already opened in the US, where its healthy opening-weekend figures have not been matched by positive reviews.
As a Cannes opener, The Great Gatsby follows a recent pattern in that it is a mainstream auteur piece from a director with a distinct visual style, much in the same way that Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom and Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris did in 2012 and 2011 respectively.
Sadly, Luhrmann's filmmaking is no match for Fitzgerald's subtle prose: when Tobey Maguire's narrator is not literally reading the book aloud (an awkward framing device find his Nick Carraway in rehab, penning his memoirs), Luhrmann is presenting us with literal interpretations of its contents. It was small wonder that in the following press conference the director alluded to the book being “seven hours long”, revealing that he rediscovered it ten years ago as an audio book during a train ride in Siberia.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, the film tells the story of a rich playboy who befriends the penniless writer Carraway in order to get close to the latter's cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), a wealthy socialite Gatsby has been smitten with since the end of the Great War some five years previously. Daisy is married to the aristocratic, womanising Tom (Joel Edgerton), but Gatsby, convinced of her love for him, makes plans to take her away.
It is the stuff of high drama, offering scope for both romance and social comment, but Luhrmann's anything-goes approach applies to almost every aspect of the production. Some scenes are played for laughs, others for pathos, most going for scale with scarcely a thought for subtlety. Indeed, it is a measure of the film's artistic failure that it will drive readers back to Fitzgerald's masterpiece not just to reacquaint themselves with the author's exquisite writing but to get back to its pure, understated essence.
Photos: Alpha Press
The full Empire review of The Great Gatsby is over here and we'll be bringing you all the news, views and reactions from Cannes as it unfolds.