Much has been made of director Baz Luhrmann's overblown style in The Great Gatsby, but that is just one of the movie's many issues. Actually, let's start with the production design. This movie is super polished and glamorous, but everything looks so blatantly fake. CGI stands in for actual set design and shooting locations. One of the movie's few redeeming features is the scope of the production, but even that is unimpressive when considering most of the movie was made on a computer. Admittetly, the costumes and makeup/hair look nice, and the movie will surely receive some award attention in that department.
The script and the acting are where The Great Gatsby really falls apart. There is no depth of character for anybody involved. The central three characters don't come across as real people. Nick Carraway has nothing to do but stand around and watch Gatsby and Daisy court each other. His frequent narration is baffling pointless, often describing the events exactly as they happen or directly telling the audience the movie's themes, as if we are too stupid to notice them. Carraway frequently stands in the corner watching the action unfold, instead of driving the plot forward with any interaction with other characters. This is a huge problem because Carraway serves as the main protagonist (Gatsby isn't introduced for over 20 minutes). Gatsby and Daisy don't fair any better. Their romance takes up the majority of the screen time in acts two and three, but there is no chemistry, nor do they display any emotional connection with each other. Instead, Gatsby and Daisy just tell each other how they feel with laughably clunky dialogue. There are no scenes showing the intense feelings they supposedly have for each other. They speak at each other instead of having actual conversations.
The actors cannot handle the script's horrible dialogue. The central three actors (Maguire, DiCaprio, and Mulligan) deliver the cornball dialogue with misplaced self- serious melodrama, making many of the conversations draw laughter from the audience. Several members of the supporting cast take the material and ham it up, causing a jarring inconsistency in tone. Lurhmann shows no motivation to rein in his actors.
Speaking of the supporting cast, some of the prominent characters from the first act completely disappear for most of the movie. The only person who shows some level of depth and complexity is Elizabeth Debicki's Jordan Baker, but she vanishes for over an hour, before coming back to do absolutely nothing. Isla Fisher's Myrtle Wilson suffers a similar fate.
The use of music should be mentioned, if only because it is drawing some criticism. Using modern music in this movie wasn't a bad idea, but the execution is nothing remarkable. Instead of using contemporary pop for any dramatic or stylistic purpose, it just seems like Lurhmann picked some songs off his ipod and threw them into the movie.
The Great Gatsby is a failure on nearly all levels. It's individual flaws could be overlooked if the movie came together to form something cohesive and meaningful, but the whole affair feels hollow. Any symbolism or larger thematic goals get lost in the glossy extravagance. The filmmakers seem to be aware of this, so they pound the themes into the viewers with nothing resembling subtlety or grace. It's truly baffling how anybody in Hollywood could green-light a script this poor, and then throw millions of dollars at the production. The Great Gatsby is a soulless movie that covers up its lack of passion and heart with computer generated spectacle. All signifying nothing.