Anita Casey-Reed


Some people think of style as a chic minimalism where "less is more".

Baz Luhrmann, the director of "The Great Gatsby", has a style that can best be characterized as "MORE is more".

If you have seen some of his other films, such as "Moulin Rouge!" or "Romeo + Juliet", you know the Luhrmann likes to go big - big visuals, big music, big performances - all in the service of big emotions. Going big is also the style of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man of impeccable attire, mysterious money, and the host of a seemingly never-ending bacchanal attended by everyone who is anyone in 1920s NYC society.

He makes friends with Nick Carroway (Tobey McGuire) and becomes quite close to Nick's cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), much to the ire of her short-tempered and snobbish husband Tom (Joel Edgerton - a world away from his working-class mensch in "The Odd Life of Timothy Green"), who of course has his own extra-marital interests in the form of the slatternly Myrtle (Isla Fisher). Luhrmann and his production designer/costume designer (and wife) Catherine Martin stuff the frame full of eye-popping colors in the clothing, the furniture, the cars, the flowers, the fireworks -- all as a visual representation of how Gatsby (a farm kid from North Dakota who has reinvented himself as "an Oxford man" after WWI) is trying to mimic the style of the upper-class he aspires to join, but always seems to overdo it just a little bit.

This lavish excess is due to his long infatuation with Daisy, and his desire to turn back the clock to when they met before her marriage and before he went overseas.

As their doomed affair progresses, the colors get colder, the rooms of his fabulous mansion become emptier, the pulsing hip-hop of the party scenes becomes slower, mournful ballads.

I doubt it's much of a spoiler, for an 87-year-old book, but what I found interesting it that Gatsby, for all his trappings of the new age, was in some ways done in by his profoundly old-fashioned ideas of chivalry and romance.

Luhrmann, for all his trappings of digital effects and a Jay-Z produced soundtrack, has some profoundly old-fashioned ideas of moviemaking.

Does it work?

That all comes down to a question of style and taste.

For me, "The Great Gatsby" worked spectacularly, but then again I like movies that are a bit more, well, MORE than everyday life.

Anita Casey-Reed is a member of the Cinema 100 Film Society, a volunteer for the Dakota Digital Film Festival and co-host of "Reel Retro" on Dakota Media Access. She lives in Bismarck with her husband and two children.