Monday, 20 May 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Baz Luhrmann
Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce, F. Scott Fitzgerald (novel)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton

Fitzgerald’s unforgettable Jazz Age novella following a young millionaire (Leonardo DiCaprio) fascinated with his long lost love Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) has captivated audiences since 1925; because of its perplexing sophistication, undeniable profanity and vivacious style. For these same awestruck audiences, Luhrmann’s sparkly and superficial adaptation of The Great Gatsby does nothing other than stamp all over the beloved book and tosses it onto an open flame.
Sadly, Luhrmann has turned a tale of such depth and complexity into something so frustratingly shallow, when it could have been so fantastic! - if only he had at least attempted to read the source material.

For non-readers of the book, it would be a lie to say The Great Gatsby isn’t fabulously entertaining. Since Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet, it’s been clear that Luhrmann is a visionary. He puts on a show, and he does it well. It would have seemed almost stupid to consider anyone else to direct a story of such compelling brilliance – it was as if Fitzgerald wrote the book with Luhrmann in mind! Yet, the film falls short of this same virtuosity, and it is his directing here that lets us all down.

Swooping camera shots and close-ups, bouncing parties we long to be at, outstanding costumes, an abstract hip-hop soundtrack (featuring Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey and Fergie), vibrant cinematography and a non-stop buzz that underlines the entire movie – yes, it all draws you in, and at times, The Great Gatsby feels like the most thrilling movie you have ever seen. But, it is not until the end, when the meaning behind everything is revealed, and we see a glimmer of a rare, endearing hope that the film should have had from the very beginning. In a way, we may feel a bit robbed.

DiCaprio really does pull out all the stops. He’s endearing and charmingly odd as the mysterious Gatsby, but still, something just doesn’t fit. Even Robert Redford struggled to convey the complexity of Gatsby’s character in the first 1974 version of this literary bible, and he is the one with two Academy Awards (sorry Leo…)

Mulligan carries her part well, however adds an unnecessary innocence to the supposedly self-centred and shallow character of Daisy. Maybe it is she who steers the audience away from feeling the sympathy for Gatsby that perhaps Fitzgerald had hoped for. However, she is still incredibly fascinating as the 20s pin-up girl; she was born for this era.

Tobey Maguire is ever so earnest and beguiling as ex-war veteran/writer Nick Carraway, cousin to Daisy and neighbour to Gatsby. The story is written from his perspective as he recalls his time spent with Gatsby to a psychiatrist. Perhaps I’m not alone in wishing the focus had been more on his character than that of Gatsby, but The Great Carraway does not have the same ring to it.

The acting in this film really does not suffer that much - smaller roles from Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki and Isla Fisher are equally as brilliant - so it is a shame that the over-exaggerated, almost cartoon-like world that Luhrmann has created detracts attention away from the raw truth that lies beneath The Great Gatsby. However, that’s just typical of him, he loves a good show, and aren’t movies all about creating a new, magical world for us anyway?

If you’re wanting a meaningful replica of the book then stay as far from this movie as possible, but if you’re simply looking for a fun time at the cinema, then it really isn’t all that bad.