Overcoming a delayed release, no matter the reason, is never an easy task for a film to overcome. Any way you look at it, many films that end up being pushed back to a later date never fair too well, but Baz Luhrmann does an OK job at disproving this trend. The Great Gatsby is not a perfect adaptation by far, but there are plenty of elements in this film that avoid making it a complete disaster.
(In full disclosure, I have not read The Great Gatsby nor have I seen the four previous adaptations of the novel)
Tale as old as time, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has been under the microscope by filmmakers multiple times since the book’s publishing in 1925; none of them proving more successful than the other. Like Baz Luhrmann’s previous works, Romeo + Julie and Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby is given a contemporary spin while attempting to maintain the the source material’s roots.
Right from the start, Lurhmann strays away from the text where we find our narrator, Nick Carrawaay (Tobey Maguire), a self-administered patient in a sanatorium. Carraway is seeking a psychiatrist’s aid to rid himself of alcoholism and depression – neither of which is ever shown into detail throughout the film.
Nick hints at his troubled past and the summer he spent in 1922 where he meets Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), but has difficulty expressing his inner-feelings. He is told that he should write down his thoughts to better collect himself; a completely unrelenting and unnecessary bookend approach to tackle this literary titan. And thus begins the story of how we meet
the Great Gatsby.
At the end of World War I, and after graduating from Yale University, Nick Carraway decides to take a summer away from the Midwest to stay in New York at a little cottage on Long Island in the fictional village of West Egg (where the new money resides). Little does he know, the peering eyes of Gatsby looks on him from next door in his ludicrously large mansion. Carraway has found work as a bond salesman, a job that we never really see him go to or rarely does he talk about. Once he visits his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) in Eest Egg (where old money lies), Nick’s life is changed once he first hears the name Gatsby.
Gatsby rumors are tossed around left and right, Jordan Baker (Jordan Baker), a friend of Daisy’s, seems to know the most about this mysterious man. It isn’t until Nick is invited to one of Gatsby’s overly lavish parties that we see how complex Mr. Gatsby truly is. In fact, no one meets Gatsby unless he wants them to apparently. The moment he unveils himself to Nick changes both of their lives forever. (This is also the moment you can’t help but giggle in glee when DiCaprio shines the biggest cheese-ball grin ever.) The true nature of the story comes out as we discover Gatsby’s intentions: seeking the approval and love of Daisy and the lengths he has gone to achieve his dream.
What The Great Gatsby attempts to convey in this adaptation only scratches at the surface of many of the themes it tries to take away from the book. Luhrmann’s main focus seems to be solely on the unrequited love that Gatsby latches on to so desperately. It’s all fun and games as the film builds rapport with its audience to understand Gatsby’s desires, but it takes way too long to establish any sort of interesting conflict or tension to keep my attention.
Visually, this movie is a spectacle to behold. Surprisingly, the 3D is well done, given a great amount of depth, and is bright enough to see what’s going on at night. With beautiful sweeping shots of New York and the incredible attention to detail with the production design, The Great Gatsby has set itself up for Oscar gold – something Luhrmann is quite familiar with. But where the grand scale visuals succeed, Luhrmann fails to create any sort of depth within the characters or build any immediacy to this tragic tale. The whole movie feels very linear and most of the time uninteresting.
Don’t even bother giving much attention to the secondary characters such as Jordan Baker, Meyer Wolfsheim (Amitabh Bachchan), Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher), and George B. Wilson (Jason Clarke) because Luhrmann doesn’t deem it necessary to expand their roles past the five minutes of screen time he offers for each them, no matter how important they are to the plot or how they relate to the main characters.
Leonardo DiCaprio can make any character he embodies fascinating to watch, and gives it all with what is written for him. The funny thing about Gatsby though is that his lifestyle bears similar resemblance to that of Alien from Spring Breakers where he cannot help but show off his s%#t to impress the ladies. I don’t think this will be Leo’s chance at Oscar once again. He is way overdue though.
Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton who plays Tom Buchanan both do a remarkable job at what they are given too, but these three characters are so bare bones it’s hard to care about any of them. Edgerton fills the shoes of Tom wonderfully as the skeezy, rich snob that he is, while Mulligan works innocence and naivety like clockwork.
The main problem is with Nick Carraway. Tobey Maguire performs well, but again it’s within the writing that we cannot grasp any of the emotions or feelings toward the situations he is put in. This makes him an unreliable person to tell the story. Sometimes it is best to show rather than tell; especially when they scroll written words across the screen as if we are unable to understand the importance of what is being said by Carraway.
The 142 minute run time does not help the cause either. Because nothing ever seems important, the movie feels like it goes on forever. Even the main climax of the movie is very underwhelming and I felt absolutely nothing. If you want to save yourself over two hours of your time, you can watch the final trailer for The Great Gatsby because it practically reveals the entire story in one neat little package.
Aside from the decent amount of acting from three quarters of the main cast, the only other thing that earned my attention was the soundtrack. My body was unprepared as to how well I would take the jazz infused hip-hop music. At first I wasn’t too fond of the sounds of Jay-Z blaring while 1920’s flappers danced to the beat, but it worked and grew on me. Because everything felt so clean with the digital photography and Baz Luhrmann’s style, it felt right.
While The Great Gatsby has many issues trying to establish any sort of intrigue, it isn’t a failure or completely boring. If not for the incredible cast of actors and stunning visual flare that Luhrmann chooses to shove in our faces, It could have been far worse.
Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby runs at 142 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language.