Wednesday, 29 May 2013

FILM: The Great Gatsby (7/10)

Why did I watch it?
Being British, I was force fed Shakespeare at school rather than any of the so called 'Great American Novels' and I never got around to reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Bearing that mind I was curious to see what the story was all about.

What's it all about?
Told through the eyes of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), The Great Gatsby is a story of lost love, glitz and glamour and excess set in the Jazz Age of the early 1920's. After moving to New York to make his fame and fortune on Wall Street, Carraway discovers his rented house borders the huge estate of the enigmatic Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a millionaire renowned for the hosting of New York's most glamorous parties. After making Gatsby's acquaintance, Carraway discovers that Gatsby hopes to reintroduce himself to his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), a married woman, having made a success of himself in the five years since he left her to go to war.

Should you watch it?
So, could Baz Luhrmann, with Jay-Z at his side, deliver a modern adaptation of the the Great American Novel that would be well received by all? I think the answer from the offset was always going to be no. Instead, Luhrmann delivers a visual feast of a film, one that tries to balance the director's big number style with an authenticity to the source material but one that relies too heavily on narration, some cheap visual effects and ends up failing to fully flesh out the key relationship central to the story.

I don't have any specific problem with Baz Luhrmann's style, I liked his take on Romeo & Juliet and have managed to avoid Moulin Rouge so far. I thought he would be a good match for the glitz, glamour and decadence of the period and I thought this side of the film worked out well. The style factor was never going to be in doubt. The use of music in the film has been the subject of some debate and I'm going to side with the positive. It worked fairly well for me, hip hop goes hand in hand with excess and the modern songs fitted well with the music video style of Gatsby's parties. Lana Del Rey's song Young & Beautiful is mesmerisingly haunting and is the perfect accompaniment for the film's troubled lovers. Having not read the book and therefore not being aware of the literary themes in place this may be an unfair comment, especially if fans of the book appreciated the inclusion, but I felt the direction was slightly heavy handed in places, I certainly felt the references to the all-seeing eyes and green light were more than driven home.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives a mature, refined performance befitting the great nature of the man. Carey Mulligan is also excellent as Daisy, giving what I call a 'bambi' type performance complete with beautifully innocent doe eyes. She is let down by the direction/narrative, wherever you want to lay the blame, which doesn't do enough to make you understand the passion of Gatsby for the girl, especially given the choices she ultimately makes. Tobey Maguire is suited to the role of Carraway, though his key role in the film as narrator, really limited my enjoyment. The guy always seems to come off so square, disapproving and lame.

I enjoyed The Great Gatsby but I'm sure it won't suit all tastes.


  1. Good review Marc. It has a bunch of style to boot, but not much else underneath the surface than just a bunch of pretty people, who just so happen to be sad.

    1. Thanks for the comment. It's true, is anybody happy in this film? Apart from the party-goers and Baz Luhrmann!

  2. I love reading this review, especially since it's through the eyes of somebody who has not read the novel. It makes you the real target audience for this movie since obviously Luhrmann wasn't going hot at the tails of those who have read the book and would oppose any film adaptations.
    I still need to see this but your dislikes about this film are echoed across many other reviews I've read. Like the direction and the redundancy of the symbolism.
    And lol @ you calling Maguire lame and a square. My sentiments exactly. He's so vanilla.
    Great review. Glad you enjoyed this overall.

    1. I've always meant to read the book and now I certainly do to get the original take on the story. Unfortunately Carraway will always appear as Tobey Maguire in my mind from now on!
      If people were not so familiar with the source material I don't think they would be so keen to see it following the largely lacklustre reviews it's been receiving.