I had actually planned on writing a book review of The Great Gatsby to tie in with the release of the movie, alas, those wonderful things known as university, deadlines and exams prevented me from doing so. Maybe I will still post it once summer kicks in.
So, I went to see this with a college friend and we had been anticipating this movie since we had studied the novel for our AS Levels. In fact, I remember when the movie was first announced; we followed every bit of casting news, newly released trailers and were left bitterly disappointed when the release date was pushed back from a winter release to a summer one. As you can tell from the picture below, I could hardly contain my excitement.
Here we are now and I can’t really say that I am left completely satisfied with Luhrmann’s take on the great American novel. Did I find it entertaining? Yes. Did I love it? Not so much.
Set in the roaring 20’s of America, in the height of decadence and corruption, The movie opens with protagonist and narrator, Nick Carraway (Tobey McGuire)who is being treated in a rehabilitation centre for alcoholism and depression (A plot line that deviates from the book) as he recounts what events have put him in such a state. He tells the story of his enigmatic neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who was in pursuit of Nick’s married cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) whom he had been in a brief but intense relationship five years before. The movie depicts Gatsby’s desperation to repeat the past and finally have Daisy for his own as she represents everything he has ever wanted; love, wealth and class, the ultimate American Dream
What I did enjoy out of the movie were the performances of the cast. They all did a fantastic job, particularly, DiCaprio in the title role of Gatsby who manages to bring the odd combination of charm, confidence and childish delusion that was required of his role. McGuire also managed to turn Nick from a 2D character on the peripheral, to the forefront. Carey Mulligan effectively depicted the materialistic nature of Daisy with her breathless and airy voice which also embodied her fragility. The standout had to be Joel Edgerton as he truly captured Tom’s brute-like, dominating characteristics whilst also illustrating his more vulnerable side.
The visuals admittedly were stunning, with looming camera shots over in and out of different landscapes to explosive fireworks and grand, opulent sets. These visuals at times do work, for instance, we get a full sense of debauchery with the extravagance of Gatsby’s parties which are used as a tool for Gatsby to attract Daisy. Luhrmann clearly wasn’t afraid to experiment with the tone or the visuals of the movie. Nevertheless, they also felt too over-the-top, making it difficult to be truly invested in what were supposed to be tender and vulnerable scenes. The scenes that were visually focused felt alienating to the audience and deviated from the potential depth and perspective of the movie. Furthermore, the visual extravaganza also overwhelmed and drowned out the extraordinary performances from the cast and ultimately themes that had made the book such a classic. Although Fitzgerald’s symbols are far from subtle, Luhrmann overplays them, thus losing the true significance of the green light and its association with the American Dream, it loses the loose morals and recklessness as symbolised by the cars. Although these visuals and gorgeous cinematography is what makes it so unique and compelling, in a similar way to Gatsby’s American Dream, it is the ambition and the ultimate downfall of the movie.
For me, the soundtrack fit surprising incredibly well with the Luhrmann’s excessive vision. Numbers which I had expected to feel incongruous actually emphasised the excitement of music in the jazz age as evident by the the fusion of upbeat hip hop tempos such a Jay Z,Beyonce and Andre 3000 sultry rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” combined with melancholy and nostalgic tones of Lana del Rey to Florence Welch’s sublime haunting voice with “Over The Love” (Which I am hooked on!). The soundtrack really gives a sense of how exciting jazz music and flappers were at this period, yet it just adds to the glamour and shallowness of the era, offering no further depth, possibly with the exception of the Florence and The Machine’s song. Lana Del Rey’s nostalgic melody “Young and Beautiful” was overplayed to death (both literally and metaphorically)
At times, it feels like Luhrmann does not grasp the full extent of depth of the source material as evident in theportrayal of the Daisy’s and Gatsby’s relationship being “love”, when in reality it is just an intoxicating fantasy, a dream, the American dream. Gatsby’s “hope” is also mentioned several times, but it’s just a delusion, another theme Luhrmann fails to pick up on. There was so much available for Luhrmann to comment on, social issues of the 20’s and how it parallels a contemporary society. Unfortunately, no matter how much glitter and jazz Lurhmann adds, the result is a mashed up mess. It begs the question whether a literary classic should remain literary and Is there any chance for this particular classic to have a movie adaptation that does it any justice?
My verdict: 7.0/10
Based on: The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald
Screenplay by: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Directed By: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey McGuire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Amitabh Bachan
In cinemas now nationwide