The Great Gatsby Review

Posted: December 20, 2013 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

the_great_gatsby_posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

I’m not a fan of Baz Luhrmann. I found his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet to be just baffling in the decision making and my disdain for Moulin Rouge! is well documented on this site. As such, I had little enthusiasm for Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby that came out earlier this year. The fact that it got such mixed reviews didn’t help much either. Still, part of me was curious, mostly to see Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance. This curiosity wasn’t enough for me to go see the film in theaters, but it was enough for me to rent it from my local library and give it a watch. I’m glad I did because this is much better than I expected and easily my favourite Baz Luhrmann film.

The year is 1922. Nick Caraway (Tobey Maguire) is a writer attempting to make it as a bond salesman. He rents a house in Long Island next door to the enigmatic Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Little is known of Gatsby, however weekend after weekend hundreds of guests pour into his mansion for his lavish parties. One day, Nick receives a written invitation to attend one of Gatsby’s parties. He doesn’t think anything unusual of this until attending and realises no one gets personal invitations, everyone just shows up. Later in the party, Gatsby takes a special interest in Nick and in the weeks that follow begins to spend a lot of time with him. However it soon becomes clear that Gatsby’s interest in Nick is actually in Nick’s beautiful cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan).

With Luhrmann’s previous films, it’s always been his stylistic choices that have torpedoed them for me, but I never thought he was untalented. In fact I always thought if Luhrmann displayed some restraint he’d probably be able to make a good movie. For me, The Great Gatsby is that film. His style is still intact, but it also seems much more relaxed and he also adds a lot of quieter scenes. Even the party scenes, crazy as they are, are appropriate since they’re supposed to be excessive. Plus, excessive as those scenes are, they still aren’t nearly as obnoxious as Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge! Mind you, not all of Luhrmann’s choices worked for me. At times it does feel like he’s throwing too much style at the film for no reason, but on the whole I appreciated his direction far more than I have before.

Another strong element of the film is the production value. The art direction and costumes are great, creating a fantastical version of the 1920s in America. The cinematography is also very professional. Many have complained that the anachronistic soundtrack undercuts the production by taking the viewer out of the time period. I see where those complaints are coming from, but I personally thought the soundtrack worked well for the most part. It’s anachronistic, but the spirit of the music fits the tone Luhrmann is going for. Plus the production is not trying to accurately recreate 1920s New York, but a fantastical version of it.

Though I like Luhrmann’s choices for the most part, he makes a fatal flaw in where he focuses the story. I haven’t read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, not yet anyway, but I have a feeling the book focuses more on the ideas of the American dream and the excess of the 1920s. I say this because you can feel a tension between those elements and what Luhrmann chooses to focus on; the love story between Gatsby and Daisy. The problem with that is it’s pretty clear the relationship is doomed from the start but the film doesn’t seem to realize this until the third act. This would be somewhat forgivable if the romance was genuinely interesting, but it really isn’t. While Gatsby is a very likable character, Daisy is an idiot who seems to have no idea about the world around her. She just reacts to whatever is immediately happening and changes are mind constantly. I can see how her character would work as the object of Gatsby’s desire, but as an actual person in a romance the audience is supposed to care for, she doesn’t.

I just realized that I got so caught up taking about everything else in the film I forgot to discuss the reason I watched it in the first place; Leonardo DiCaprio. As expected, DiCaprio is great as the enigmatic Gatsby. He makes Gatsby a charming and likable person, but also dives head on into the character’s flaws in the third act. DiCaprio also has the challenge of making the larger than life Gatsby feel like a real person, and sure enough he does. However the real main character is Tobey Maguire’s Nick Caraway. Maguire’s performance isn’t as memorable, but that’s largely by design. The whole point of Caraway is that he’s the unappreciated third wheel, which is an inherently thankless role. Maguire does a good job however and he has some very strong scenes with Gatsby. Joel Edgerton also gives a good turn as Daisy’s husband and Carey Mulligan conveys more complexity than Daisy really has.

Overall, The Great Gatsby is a very flawed work. Luhrmann’s choice to focus on a romance feels misguided and at times he lets his style get the best of him. And yet this is still the most restrained and nuanced effort I’ve seen from him. Perhaps he’s learned from previous efforts or perhaps the weight of the source material compelled him to tone things down. The film benefits from a strong cast, particularly DiCaprio, and while the focus is in the wrong plans, larger more interesting themes do still come through. I can’t call The Great Gatsby a great film, but it is a significantly better one than I expected to see from Baz Luhrmann.

B+

Comments
  1. moviebuff801 says:

    I hated it, to– Wait…what???

  2. brikhaus says:

    Yeah, flawed is good way to put it, but B+ seems generous. I just can’t stand Luhrmann’s visual style. DiCaprio was good in it, though, he was the perfect choice for Gatsby.

  3. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. A visual stone cold stunner, but the emotional weight of that story was just as dull as could be.

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