Cert: 12A Runtime: 142 mins Director: Baz Lurhmann Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Isla Fisher, Amitabh Bachan and Joel Edgerton
Can’t repeat the past? Why, of course you can
So many people have slated Gatsby even before its general release. But then I remember back critics hated Romeo+Juliet and Moulin Rouge, Baz Lurhmann is a very unique film maker (so he isn’t everyones cup of tea) The Great Gatsby is a classic novel written by F.Soctt Fitzgerlad about the 1920’s in New York, from this masterpiece various film versions have been made and a play also. When Lurhmann took the helm of this, with DiCaprio back as his leading man I was excited.”The Great Gatsby” follows would-be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as he leaves the Midwest and comes to New York City in the spring of 1922, an era of loosening morals, glittering jazz, bootleg kings, and sky-rocketing stocks. Chasing his own American Dream, Nick lands next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her philandering, blue-blooded husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). It is thus that Nick is drawn into the captivating world of the super rich, their illusions, loves and deceits. As Nick bears witness, within and without of the world he inhabits, he pens a tale of impossible love, incorruptible dreams and high-octane tragedy, and holds a mirror to our own modern times and struggles.
The intro of the film is classic Luhrman, beginning in grainy black and white, before exploding shortly thereafter into tinted newsreels on fast forward, with Jay-Z’s rhymes over the images. The party scenes are somewhat reminiscent of his opus, Moulin Rouge, complete with anachronistic music rearranged for a jazz orchestra. One favorite moment was the soundtrack fading from an anachronistic hip-hop/electronic jam, to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” to accompany a fireworks display. The fast cuts that Luhrman is so fond of almost have the flickering effect of an old film reel on fast forward in here, and the over-saturation of colours is reminiscent of a black and white photograph with bright pigment added in. Dialogue and narration are borrowed almost word for word, and the voice overs from Tobey Maguire’s Nick, while an effective display of Fitzgerald’s poetic language, become overbearing, and often redundant. When the audience can see the look in an angered Gatsby’s eyes, they can interpret for themselves that he “looked like he just killed a man.” While there are some striking visuals in this film, it only feels like a Baz Luhrman picture for the first ten minutes or so. Our introduction to the Buchanans, Myrtle Wilson and her social circle, and to Nick himself play in that fast-paced, cartoonish style that the first half of Moulin Rouge had, which can give you a headache.
Not that such a style is advisable for any film’s whole running time, but as the story progresses, the film’s pace slows down, and it starts to feel more like a mainstream movie than an art film. In a certain sense there’s not a bad thing, if the purpose is to focus on character development or story. But the story, while heavy with themes, is empty of much plot, and the whole point of characters like Daisy, Tom and Jordan is precisely that they ultimately don’t have a lot of depth. The film solves this somewhat by imbuing Daisy with more warmth than in the book, and focusing on her relationship with Gatsby. In a strange way, at least for me, it almost became the story of her loss as well. Just as Gatsby is too stuck in the past to move forward, she doesn’t see a way to go backward, and the audience sees her fear and uncertainty in everything she does. While ultimately still a shallow, careless person, Carey Mulligan’s performance creates such a sweet persona that it’s not hard to imagine how men could believe that they’re in love with her. What I expected to be the weakest part of the film- the love story and relationships between characters- turned out to be the emotional core of the whole thing.In addition to the visuals and script, the cast of The Great Gatsby is incredibly strong, embodying iconic characters on a spectrum of competent to amazing.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby conveys both the charismatic showman (complete with an affected New England accent) and the nervous, awkward youth, delusional in his obsession over his lost love. I didn’t find anything wrong with Tobey Maguire, except that Nick comes off much more snarky and self-aware in the novel, and here he seems much more naive and swept up in it all, which is supposed to make his eventual depressive state more poignant. As a framing device, it’s highly effective, drawing a parallel between F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life and the fictional life of his author avatar, which creates a synergy between source and adaptation. The title of the film/book even appears superimposed on the green-lit fog at the end. As of the director, I loved watching it, but I understand why it’s so polarizing, since most people tend to dislike one, the other, or both. The phrase that best sums up The Great Gatsby for me is the old chestnut, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” It’s a poignant and melancholy story about lost opportunities, and reaching for the moon before realizing how lonely it is at the top. Finally, an eclectic adapter of well-known stories has found a perfect match, in a gilded star-crossed love story with a hollow centre that stays in your mind long after it’s ended, like a forgotten dream.