Director: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Tobey Macguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki
Plot: New York is all fascinated with the enigmatic man, Gatsby (Di Caprio), making it all the more surprising when newcomer Carraway (Macguire) receives an invitation to his mansion.
Critics have been cruel to Baz Luhrmann’s adaption of the great American novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. I heard that there is a sense that Luhrmann simply used spark-notes, rather than throwing himself into the text and coming up with a faithful take on the story. However, I quite liked this movie. Maybe it is because I went in with such low expectations. Maybe it is because I have never read the book, so this was the first time I have experienced the powerful story of love and decadence. Whatever the reason, there is a certain charm to Great Gatsby that made it rather difficult not to enjoy.
As the film opens up, there is a sense that Luhrmann wants to make a movie about the roaring parties of the 1920s, rather than the novel itself. The movie spends half of its running time, playing about with 3D technology and special effects, in order to create a surreal party mood. Maybe if Luhrmann created an original screenplay rather than adapting a book, this movie would have gone down a little better. There was something appealing about the party scenes. The use of re-interpretations of Jay-Z’s discography, mixed with some sparkly frocks and so much alcohol created a fun atmosphere that I would have liked to get lost in, if there wasn’t so much exposition to get through.
Luhrmann’s directing style is a bit hit and miss. I couldn’t make up my mind if I was impressed or not (which by default, I guess, I was not). It cleverly speeds through important details, building up this character of Gatsby, ages before Di Caprio even steps onto the big screen. Other times it felt too much. Carraway’s narration wasn’t always needed: it felt like a cheap trick to smuggle quotes from the novel into the film. The words being typed out as the movie played out screamed ‘book adaption’, making the whole movie feel slightly cheap. Luhrmann created such a powerful tone that he ended up being unable to control it, so it alienated the audience, rather than allowing them to embrace the mood of the film.
The cast were phenomenal. Leonardo Di Caprio shines. It would be the role of a lifetime, but Di Caprio takes those kinds of roles twice a year it seems. Gatsby just screams Di Caprio from the confident smile, to the descent into childishness and madness. Di Caprio builds up all of the tricks he has learnt from his extensive time as an A-List actor and uses them to finely-tuned precision. Just like Carraway, we are amazed at this god-like figure from the moment he waltzes onto the big screen, fireworks exploding behind him.
The rest of the cast are also good, although the script never fully embraces Carey Mulligan’s or Joel Edgerton’s talent. They are great to watch, but when you are handling a rising star, like Mulligan, you have to let her do her thing. She plays the victim well, but I would have liked to have seen more of her as a dame from the 20s at the start of the film, rather than a constantly weepy figure. Tobey Macguire is the one person who benefits from Luhrmann’s direction. This is the kind of tone Macguire suits best, allowing him to portray seriousness and corny, sometimes at the same time. Once you’ve got over the drawl of his accent, Macguire actually becomes quite fun to watch.
On a more embarrassing note, I had a whole paragraph prepared about Emily Blunt’s performance, only to find out that the actress in question was not even Blunt, but Elizabeth Debicki. It was quite a bizarre moment. Also, when Debicki first appears on-screen, I swore that it was Zooey Deschanel, suggesting there could be some truth in that internet meme. On another note, I guess mistaking Debicki’s acting for Emily Blunt’s is a compliment in itself.
So yes, despite many negative reviews, I fully enjoyed Fitzgerald’s tale of naïve love and mystery. Gatsby is a fun character to explore and I am definitely diving into the actual novel first chance I get. The ending was done so brilliantly that my heart was in my mouth the whole time. It was a heart-breaking ending, especially the funeral scene in the closing act. I know that is more down to Fitzgerald’s brilliance as a writer than Luhrmann, but it is still something I wished to comment on.
Final verdict: Despite negative reviews, Gatsby is an enjoyable watch. Newcomers will enjoy this modern take on a classic story.