I’m very late to the party with this review. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby must have been one of the most hyped, and most dreaded film of recent years. There’s nothing like tackling the literary love, and school text, of millions for risk taking. The critics were sniffy. I had low expectations (and a high hemline – oh yes, I’m geeky enough to have gone to the cinema in 1920s garb). I love Fitzgerald’s writing and couldn’t help but fear a Come What May, Moulin Rouge style number. Perhaps Daisy breaking into a jazz version of Madonna’s Material Girl? Oh the horror.
So I was more than relieved when I found myself enjoying the film. Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby is a mesmerisingly intense cross between a psychotic stalker and a lovesick puppy. I swear you could see his blood pulse with desire for Carrie Mulligan’s Daisy, and pure hatred for Joel Edgerton’s supercilious brute Tom Buchannan. Carrie Mulligan didn’t do it for me as Daisy, but after hours of thought the only alternatives I could conjure were women who are now too old for the part, or dead. It’s a shame a new unknown gem could not have been unearthed. Tobey Maguire is pleasing as Nick Carraway, and I appreciated the film’s angle of him narrating the tale to a psychiatrist, before eventually typing up ‘his’ story in a fit of sleepless mania. There were echoes of Fitzgerald’s own life in there that reassured me Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, who jointly wrote the screenplay, were genuine fans. The ‘typing’ of the story by Nick also allowed for the famous opening and closing lines of the novel to appear like text, across the screen. A wise way to deal with, and a fitting reverence to, such deft iconic sentences.
The film was a good interpretation, in that it nailed various themes of the book: decadence, the power and carelessness of the rich, the unhealthy obsession with the past, the summation of so many icons of the Jazz age. But it could only look in the single direction the camera was pointed in at any one time. A film, in my opinion, can never have the same nuances as a book. A film speaks to your eyes and your ears, and sometimes even your heart, but never your soul. Having said that, I am a bibliophile.
Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby delivered fizzes, and sparks, and the delicious pleasure of a slow burn pace often missing from mainstream megabucks movies. I’m guessing not many big time Hollywood directors would either be allowed, or brave enough, to gamble on a slower storyline when today’s audiences are more used to quick fire, plot-racing CGI blockbusters. Fair play, Baz.
And after my earlier musical based fears, I loved the soundtrack. If anything, Luhrmann was too cautious and miserly with his contemporary tracks – as if he were frightened Jay-Z would be too much for lit lovers.
For me the film is an agreeable success, but I shall leave the final word to the two teen girls I overheard afterwards: “Wow. That wasn’t romantic. She wasn’t very nice. What’s the name of the guy who wrote it again? Nick Carraway.” Luhrmann sends his apologies, Fitzgerald.
Image belongs to Warner Bros.