Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Written by: Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce (screenplay), based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke
I probably shouldn’t be surprised by the disparate reactions to Baz Luhrmann’s latest visual extravaganza, but I am, a little. Granted, Luhrmann’s take on the classic novel, about a man desperate to prove his worth to his long-lost love and its symbolic reflection of American society in the post-war era, is more garish and unsentimental than the novel but it still works for a few reasons.
What I liked: Attention to performance is one of Baz Luhrmann’s strengths as a director. Despite the volume of his films, with their prominent soundtracks and buzzing images he never forgets his actors. The Great Gatsby is no exception. In fact, Lurhmann takes greater care of his characters and their development here than in previous films. Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton and Carey Mulligan are excellent. Through Maguire’s concentrated stare we feel Nick’s loneliness; through Edgerton’s rough voice we feel Tom Buchanan’s arrogance; through Mulligan’s whimisical demeanor we sense Daisy’s unworthiness of Gatsby’s love. Together with their strong supporting cast, they provide all the heart, emotion and intrigue that manage to retain our focus despite the visial chaos. Lastly, Leonardo DiCaprio, as Jay Gatsby, is exceptional. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen him as the romantic lead and his commitment to this iconic character made his performance far more profound and powerful than I have seen in his recent films. Finally, I enjoyed the modernized soundtrack headed by Jay-Z. I found the music timely and suited the moments over which it played. Although, a contemporary soundtrack over period pieces is a staple in Lurhmann’s films, here it worked, whether or not intended, as an indication that American indulgence is still omnipresent.
What I didn’t like: The narrative framework that posits Nick Carraway as a recovering alcoholic cathartically seeking solace through his writing about Gatsby didn’t at all work. I found it added nothing to our understanding of the film and delayed my immersion into the story – so much so that I felt waves of fear that I’d hate my most anticipated movie of 2013. In fact, the moments of Nick’s voice-over postulations (comprised mainly of quotes from the novel) detracted from the flow and minimized Nick’s affection for Gatsby, which was so endearing during the film.
My rating: I’ll buy it when it comes out.
In case you’re interested: Here is James Franco’s review of The Great Gatsby for Vice Magazine