The closest I can come is to say that this Gatsby isn’t subtle.
Baz Luhrmann isn’t exactly known for his subtlety, and in some ways, it’s his flair for over-the-top spectacle that makes him an ideal choice for the material. It has to be said that this film is exactly as gorgeous and lavish as an adaptation of Gatsby ought to be. The costumes and sets are phenomenal, and the music does a nice job of updating the opulence of the period (in a way that, for instance, Sofia Coppola didn’t quite manage to do in Marie Antoinette). Gatsby’s parties are every bit as wild as one would expect them to be.
The problem is, I think, that everything is a little bit too slick. The world Gatsby inhabits is one of elaborately beautiful surfaces, and the film captures that, but the novel tries to expose the flaws in those facades, whereas the film is simply faithfully replicating the excess.
What’s more, Luhrmann seems to have missed the sadness at the heart of the story. It’s gestured at — in broad, melodramatic strokes — but I never truly felt it, perhaps because the film never slowed down long enough to let me. It had the feeling of a music video or a two-hour montage. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, lingers much more carefully in the nuanced human moments of the novel — it seems to actually be about people, even if they’re dreadful, privileged people for whom I have no sympathy.
In the novel, Nick compares Gatsby to “one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away”; the line makes it into the movie, but that heightened sensitivity somehow doesn’t.