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But this Gatsby isn't all crescendos, and in fact turns intimate at times, driven by an impeccable cast. DiCaprio, so often cited for his forever-youthful face (cf. death of American masculinity, movie stars all sissy babies now, where are the guys who can punch or rape or whatever, etc.), makes a damn near perfect Jay Gatsby. In real life, he's approaching 40 and, with it, a decade more on the clock than this iconic character, but that clean-cut non-mug of his gives Gatsby just the right mix of quasi-sophistication and youthful naivete. He's at once imposing in his confidence and childlike in his desire to please Daisy, with plenty of shots of him more or less lurking in the bushes. Mulligan's Daisy Buchanan is a bit more opaque than the flighty and careless woman on the page, but Mulligan's charm fills in what the book allows us, by virtue of projection or imagination or description (take your pick) to provide ourselves: a reason, however flimsy and underdeveloped, for Gatsby's love and delusion. The character could have used, perhaps, a touch more upper-class thoughtlessness, but Luhrmann isn't romanticizing—it couldn't be clearer that Gatsby is nuts for her in the bad way, not least in their reintroduction scene, from which the film mines unexpected hilarity. Rather, he's humanizing. He can't hate Daisy, or even truly disdain her, because anyone short of a hissable villain gains his sympathy. Edgerton's Tom takes that role here, a little too easily, but then again, I don't recall Tom getting much sympathy from me during any of my three times with the book, either.
Now's as good a time as any to mention that The Great Gatsby is, indeed, one of my favorite books. Somehow, I doubt that this is original. And just as it seems difficult, bordering on understandably impossible, for many critics to engage with Gatsby without involving their own feelings for and interpretations of the book, having read some reviews it's difficult for me to focus solely on Gatsby the movie without thinking of Gatsby the literature that film critics apparently feel a deep-seated need to defend—and their accompanying tendencies toward English-prof lecturing in doing so. Luhrmann, goes a school of thought that may well have been completed around the release of the first trailer, has captured the superficial glitz of the novel but not its soul, reducing Gatsby and Daisy to just another romance doomed by melodramatic circumstance and cinematic oversimplification, abetted by overdesigned clothes and overdressed sets.
Thing is, this dismissal of Gatsby as just one more Baz Luhrmann extravaganza flies in the face of some pretty damn obvious stylistic departures, even if the framework feels familiar (the man at the typewriter could be as easily borrowed from Moulin Rouge as from a sense of Fitzgerald's personal history). The denial would be more appropriate from actual English professors; from film critics who are supposed to, you know, watch movies, not just pontificate on their themes, it's a little disappointing. Most obviously, Luhrmann is shooting in 3D, which slows his cutting considerably, lest the audience's eye sockets throw their contents right up in protest. Romeo and Juleit and Moulin Rouge both begin in a hush that quickly shoots into a frenzy, and that technique is simply unavailable here.