herald

Saturday 25 October 2014

Baz makes a Gatsby that grates

THE GREAT GATSBY Drama. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Debicki. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. Cert 12A

When a movie comes loaded with as much expectation as The Great Gatsby, but is mysteriously withdrawn from the pre-Oscars release schedules amid rumours of serious budget overruns and studio-enforced reshoots, then one can only assume that a cinematic compromise is the most likely outcome, and that's clearly the case here.

His 1992 debut Strictly Ballroom aside, Baz Luhrmann has hardly been a disciplined movie-maker. Certainly, the meshing of contemporary movie styles and musical soundtracks into Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet and La Belle Epoque Paris in Moulin Rouge! made for giddy entertainments, but he came a cropper with the awful Australia, a thoroughly misguided shot at an epic which displayed his inability to tell a story.

And, given that F Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel has seen off at least four previous attempts to bring it alive, the odds were clearly stacked against Luhrmann. He doesn't win.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that the source material is a subtle and carefully nuanced story of ultimately thwarted ambition, a skewering of the shallowness of so-called glamour and an exposure of the lie which lies at the heart of the American Dream, the notion that anyone can make it and be accepted.

SHALLOW

Baz Luhrmann most definitely does not do subtle, but is a dab hand at shallow and it's this disconnect with the essential essence of the story which effectively torpedoes the enterprise in the first hour.

Told in flashback by Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) from a sanitorium where he's receiving treatment for alcohol-related disorders, we're transported back to New York in 1922 when the Jazz Age was in full swing. Carraway, a once-aspiring writer who's been seduced by the glamour of the booming financial industry (spoiler alert: that doesn't end well), tracks down his cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), a glamorous young woman married to the fabulously wealthy Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

The marriage is clearly something of a sham, given Tom's tomcatting ways, but the benefits of a Long Island mansion and all the perks that come with a pile of old money seem to be enough to keep this vacuous clotheshorse happy.

Nick's next-door neighbour is the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a shadowy figure whose mighty mansion lies across the bay from the Buchanans and is the scene of lavish and raucous parties.

It's the latter which Luhrmann most concerns himself with for the first half of the film, setting up riotous scenes which don't drive the story at all and leave you feeling like you've been watching variations on his Nicole Kidman Chanel commercial for 60 minutes.

This stylistic overkill has the effect of numbing the viewer so that by the time some drama emerges, you're just too mentally exhausted to appreciate it.

This is a pity, as DiCaprio is excellent as Gatsby, a man driven by a desire to improve himself by whatever means, but continually coming up against the 'old money's better than new' barrier which forms the basis of America's class structure.

Against that, Carey Mulligan's Daisy is far too sympathetic given the choices her character has made, Maguire is as wet and limp as ever as the narrator while Joel Edgerton appears to think he's playing the lead role in an Errol Flynn biopic.

The Great Gatsby isn't as bad as it could have been, despite scenes which wouldn't even have made the final cut of Madonna's wretched W.E. and the most pointless use of 3D you'll see this year, but it wastes another fine turn from its leading man and is nowhere near as good as it should have been. Some nice frocks though.

2 STARS

a hijacking Drama. Starring Pilou Asbaek, Soren Malling, Gary Skjoldmose Porter, Abdihakin Asgar, Roland Moller, Amalie Ihle Alstrup. Directed by Tobias Lindholm. Cert 15A

Danish film and TV is on a great run at the moment and A Hijacking adds to that reputation in a serious fashion. Directed by Tobias Lindholm, who wrote last year's magnificent Mads Mikkelsen movie The Hunt and was a scriptwriter on Borgen, the film unfolds in a documentary-like fashion as a Danish cargo ship is hijacked in the Indian Ocean by Somali pirates and a tense four-month standoff ensues as negotiations to release the crew drag on.

The central characters here are ship's cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek) and company owner Peter (Soren Malling), both familiar faces to fans of Borgen, with the former gradually losing the will to live in a sweltering cabin held by people who could kill him at any moment while the latter sits in a steel-and-glass office treating the negotiations like he would any other business deal. This at times unbearably tense film is made all the more powerful by the director's decision not to use any soundtrack music, lending proceedings a disturbingly realistic feel, Lindholm's confidence even stretching to not showing us how the pirates take control of the vessel. Thoroughly recommended. HHHHI

fast & furious 6 Action. Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Luke Evans, Michelle Rodriguez, Gina Carano, Chris Bridges, Tyrese Gibson. Directed by Justin Lin. Cert 15A

At least this franchise now knows not to take itself too seriously, with the last instalment throwing plenty of nods and winks at the audience as it ramps up the action and destroys hundreds of cars. They're at it again here, with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew happily spending their money from their last heist in Rio until they're called in by FBI agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to track down a former SAS officer-turned-mercenary (Luke Evans) for which they'll have their criminal records cleared.

Dreary old London can't hold a candle to Rio when it comes to a backdrop but, again, there's action galore, a couple of jaw-droppingly daft set-pieces and a twist a four-year-old child could see coming. Sure, it's at least a half hour too long but there are far worse ways to spend a wet afternoon. And yes, there will be a Fast & Furious 7.

3 STARS

beware of mr baker Documentary. Featuring Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Steve Winwood, Carlos Santana. Directed by Jay Bulger. Cert 15A

The life and career of drummer, arranger, world music pioneer, heroin addict and polo fanatic Ginger Baker is profiled in this fascinating and equally infuriating film by the incredibly irritating Jay Bulger. Beginning with Baker – a deeply, deeply unpleasant man – in his home in South Africa, we track back through his early career in London's jazz clubs, his ascent to rock stardom alongside Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton in Cream and the subsequent journey which led him to Africa, Italy, Colorado, California and several other places. Accounts of his, shall we say, uncompromising manner are detailed honestly by former colleagues and the picture which emerges is of a seriously talented but downright horrible individual. Still, compulsive viewing for all serious rock fans. HHHII

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