Review: THE GREAT GATSBY
When Australian director Baz Luhrmann signed on to helm the fifth film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s acclaimed American classic, fans and critics alike were both excited and weary. Similar to his work on Moulin Rouge!, Luhrmann gives The Great Gatsby his signature over-the-top shimmering and colorful cinematic style accompanied by an electric and eccentric soundtrack.
Bordering more on guilty pleasure than on striking cinematic achievement, Luhrmann’s Gatsby is not a strict retelling of a timeless classic. It’s a hip-hop loaded reinvention rendered in three lavish stereoscopic dimensions dressed in extravagant costumes and decadent pearls. Although the story is set in the famed Roaring Twenties, this is a Moulin Rouge! meets Jazz Age rendition that creates a Gatsby for a younger audience. For better and for worse, Luhrmann’s adaptation is everything that we expected it to be.
The film opens with Fitzgerald’s somber surrogate Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) in an office, conversing with a psychiatrist. Confined to a shrink for being morbidly alcoholic, Nick recalls his memories of the time he spent in New York City in the summer of 1922. At first, the psychiatrist finds it hard to get Nick to divulge any of these memories, until he asks if there was anything he truly enjoyed about that fateful summer. He recounts his relationship with his mysterious neighbor.
“Gatsby….the single most hopeful person I ever met, or am likely to ever meet again.”
After taking note of Nick’s change in attitude and demeanor, the psychiatrist suggests that Nick write about his times with Gatsby – noting that Nick himself even said that writing is the only thing that brings him solice.
The story flashes back to images of the Roaring Twenties, flappers flapping and stocks booming. Luhrmann makes good use of the medium by rehashing original twenties footage and mixing it with new footage – sometimes rendered to look like old footage. The color of the film slowly comes to life as the music becomes louder and depth of the 3-D begins to take shape.
Nick, a young Midwesterner, is a bond salesman who moves to the fictional village of West Egg, Long Island after giving up on his writing aspirations. Right across the bay from Nick’s new home live his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). After visiting Daisy and Tom, and being introduced to the sporty Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki), Nick learns of his mysterious neighbor whose house casts a looming shadow over his small cottage.
The extravagant party scenes at Jay Gatsby’s profligate mansion are where Luhrmann really gets the opportunity to shine. Gatsby’s parties are a melting pot of New York citizens where we see individuals from all corners of the city – including movie stars, politicians, and lawmen. Luhrmann uses a wonderful anachronistic soundtrack that makes the electricity of the parties almost palpable, and the 3-D makes us want to reach out and try to grasp it for ourselves. Exaggerated colors and confetti fly across the screen as Luhrmann’s energetic camera allows us to be up close and personal with the ‘20s Jazz Age like never before.
For the first half hour or so of the film, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby eludes the audience as we only catch brief glimpses of him. Our first true introduction to the character is an introduction that every movie star would die for and is nothing short of mesmerizing.
Never more handsome or suave, Leonardo DiCaprio physically represents what all readers expect the enigmatic Jay Gatsby to look like. After being the only person to receive a personal invitation to the party, Nick has trouble finding the elusive Gatsby. A man holding a tray with a martini on it extends the tray to Nick, and a pinky ring takes center screen. Nick proclaims to the man that he was sent an invitation and shares some of the rumors that had been explained to him about Jay Gatsby.
“I thought you knew, old sport. I’m afraid I’m not a very good host. I’m Gatsby,” the man announces to Nick. DiCaprio’s Gatsby has a piercing smile and his aura radiates off the screen as he raises a champagne glass with fireworks exploding in the background.
The music continues to rock on as the relationship between Nick and Gatsby continues to develop and Nick learns about Gatsby’s infatuation with his cousin, Daisy. It has been five years since Gatsby and Daisy have seen each other, and Daisy has since wed and given birth to a daughter. When Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship begins to take center stage, the pace of the film slows down significantly. There is a wonderful and comical scene at Nick’s cottage where Gatsby obnoxiously redecorates the place with flowers as he is eager to impress Daisy, who is coming over for tea.
The film’s themes are handled delicately as we’re shown that the man with all the money in the world can buy everything to lure his true love back into his arms, but it’s not enough to capture the one thing that money can’t buy.
But Luhrmann doesn’t do very well with the more tragic and heavy elements of the story. Luhrmann sometimes seems lost in the film’s final section. While he and co-writer Craig Pearce are faithful to the book throughout the film’s entirety, they didn’t make too much of an attempt to try and make certain plot elements their own – especially with the love triangle between Daisy, Tom, and Gatsby. There is one heated scene inside a Manhattan hotel room, but it dies off from there. Many times, as the film hurdles to its conclusion, we find ourselves reaching out for more as if we are the film’s title character hopelessly reaching for the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s pier.
As we learn that Gatsby is a beautiful storyteller and fabricator, his self-made millionaire status shows us the American Dream and the idea of making something out of nothing. But with a source material so precious and brilliant, it’s hard to think that in the film’s more delicate moments, Luhrmann is making nothing out of something. The film’s first 105 minutes are enamoring and electrifying, and that holds up the film’s last 30 minutes – even though the film’s tragic climax is done quite well.
With all that being said, this adaptation of The Great Gatsby is a party worth the price of admission. Fans will have mixed feelings about this adaptation – as some of the film’s more tragic moments seem lost and some roles are thrown away or miscast.The film will more than likely lend a new look for younger audiences – especially with its soundtrack. The soundtrack, produced by Jay-Z, is a mash up of hip-hop, indie rock, and jazz style that is undoubtedly one of the primary draws of the film. Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” rings softly throughout many of the film’s more intimate scenes, while Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” shakes the Richter scale as it blasts during the film’s awe-inspiring party scenes.
But after it concludes, we beat on, boats against the current, but not borne back ceaselessly into the past. We are borne into a new Gatsby – a Gatsby for the current generation and of the current times. There are many things wrong with the world that Luhrmann has created, but so much of it feels so right.
Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby will undoubtedly have audiences divided. Fans new to Gatsby will find much to love, while those who adore the F. Scott Fitzgerald American classic may not find it quite as pleasing. It is a visual feast with an outstanding contemporary soundtrack that makes it hard to resist the urge to get up and dance during the electric party scenes.
The first-class cast delivers the kinds of performances that we’ve come to expect – DiCaprio and Maguire have spectacular chemistry. For the most part, the film stays true to its literary counterpart – sticking to the core themes of the dwindling American Dream, love lost, and the emotional vacancies of the insanely rich. I found much to enjoy in The Great Gatsby, and I think you will, too.
Posted on May 9, 2013, in Reviews and tagged Baz Luhrmann, Books, Carey Mulligan, Elizabeth Debicki, Film, Gatsby, Joel Edgerton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Movies, Review, The Great Gatsby, Tobey Maguire, Warner Bros.. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.