Scott Foundas, Variety
Of course, to accuse Luhrmann (who also co-wrote the screenplay with frequent collaborator Craig Pearce) of overkill is a bit like faulting a leopard for his spots. Love it or hate it, take it or leave it, this is unmistakably his“Gatsby” through and through, and as with all such carte-blanche extravaganzas (increasingly rare in this cautious Hollywood age), it exudes an undeniable fascination — at least for a while. In the notes for his unfinished final novel, “The Last Tycoon,” Fitzgerald famously wrote, “action is character,” but for Luhrmann action is production design, hairstyling, Prada gowns and sweeping, swirling, CGI-enhanced camera movements that offer more bird’s-eye views of Long Island (actually the Fox Studios in Sydney) than “The Hobbit” did of Middle-earth. Arguably, the movie reaches its orgiastic peak 30 minutes in, with the first full reveal of Gatsby himself (Leonardo DiCaprio), accompanied by an explosion of fireworks and the eruption of Gershwin on the soundtrack. Where, really, can one go from there?
Todd McCarthy, THR
But no matter how frenzied and elaborate and sometimes distracting his technique may be, Luhrmann’s personal connection and commitment to the material remains palpable, which makes for a film that, most of the time, feels vibrantly alive while remaining quite faithful to the spirit, if not the letter or the tone, of its source…
Everybody from party girls to politicians comes to Gatsby’s extravagant parties, where the booze flows and the music plays and the carousing goes on all night. But no one ever sees the host, whose wealth is surpassed only by his mysteriousness. No one knows where he or his money came from but, during the nocturnal bacchanals, no one much cares.
Luhrmann and his ever-essential design collaborator (and co-producer and wife) Catherine Martin always seem extra-stimulated by such scenes, which involve hundreds of ornate costumes, constant movement and music which here imposes blends as unlikely as hip hop and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Whether you can abide some of the specific musical choices or not, the way Luhrmann and his music editors mix and match wildly disparate source material is ballsy and impressive; the operating principle is mood and emotion, with a surprise element that can be jarring and/or inspired.
In time-honored dramatic fashion, Gatsby’s entrance is delayed for a half-hour and, when the moment comes, there’s something in the way it’s shot combined with the self-possessed I-own-the-world smile on DiCaprio’s face that reminds of the first time you see the young Charles Foster Kane in an earlier film about a fellow with more money than he knows what to do with. This moment and, even more so, in the superb compositions and cutting of Gatsby’s death, show how classically precise Luhrmann can be when he wants to be. Throughout, he photographs DiCaprio the way a movie star used to be shot — glamorously and admiringly, taking full advantage of the charismatic attributes with which only the anointed few are blessed.