There are two ways that a Baz Luhrmann-directed The Great Gatsby could have gone, and either way would have been acceptable. First, Luhrmann could have oversaturated the film with his usual pomp and intense style. The result would have been a visually-appealing, highly unique take on the Fitzgerald novel. Luhrmann could have used this tack to highlight the disgusting grandiosity and veneer that Fitzgerald highlights. Another way would have been for Luhrmann to tone down his style and focus on the narrative of the novel, the personal narratives of the characters who were so representative of that time and that society. This would have been acceptable as well, a less showy but equally damning social commentary.
The main problem with The Great Gatsby is that it took the middle ground, and by not fully committing to either stances, became a movie that failed to be either glamorous or emotional. By trying to be both, it instead presented a confusing film, neither here nor there. While still enjoyable, the film lacked anything to make it stand out.
There are a number of things that still work in Gatsby’s favour. The set designs are truly incredible. Some of the directing decisions by Luhrmann worked quite well. Performances by Leonardo di Caprio, Carey Mulligan and Jason Clarke were spot-on. But none of those could have helped the movie capture the magic of the book, especially in such a disjointed effort.
Ultimately, The Great Gatsby is a noteworthy film that is sure to enthral both those familiar and unfamiliar with the novel by Fitzgerald. However, it fails to live up to its full potential due to uneven directing from Luhrmann which contributed to confused messaging and imagery. The film would have been better served if Luhrmann had fully committed to his high-intensity, dazzling style rather than fearfully reverting to straight-up storytelling at some key moments.