Director: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton
Review Written By: Michael Dalton (Prime Minister)
Baz Luhrmann has made a name for himself as a very extravagant filmmaker, with work such as Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. His style is flamboyant and found to be grating by some, and intoxicating by others. He is in many ways, the Gatsby of filmmakers, a man who displays stylish excess in order to woo the audience. Therefore while Baz is in many ways the perfect filmmaker to visualize that side of this story and this famous character, he also does not have a subtle bone in his body and seems more concerned with covering the tragic romance beats he has covered before, rather than focusing on the true tragedy of the tale within Gatsby himself.
Visually this is a very impressive film and the costumes, cinematography and production design must be commended. This film is a feast for the eyes and aesthetically there is never a dull moment, unfortunately within the realm outside of style there are plenty. The use of 3D promised to be braver and more interesting than it actually was, arguably being a microcosm for Luhrmann’s approach as a whole with this film. While for some Baz may already have gone too far with his stylistic flourishes, I don’t think he went far enough. I was expecting a work much more in line with Moulin Rouge and for better and for worse; Luhrmann’s is very faithful to the source material. It is perhaps an indicator of, and comment on, his prior work, that this film can be seen in many ways as restrained. The modern soundtrack, the use of 3D, the kinetic camera movements, all appeared briefly yet never seemed to be as enthusiastically embraced as they could have and arguably should have been. Maybe a comment on my age, music taste, or desire for difference but…it could have done with more Jay-Z.
Luhrmann seems to go to great lengths to ‘modernize’ this tale through the inclusion of modern music, however one cannot help but wonder why he just didn’t go the whole way and do a modern day Great Gatsby. Given the current financial situation, now would be a perfect time period in which to set this story. Instead of World War One we could have Iraq, instead of Prohibition we have the war on drugs and instead of the green light on the dock we have the green light on Facebook chat (Ok, maybe I’m going a little too far there) However perhaps the modern day Gatsby was already released this year in the form of ‘Spring Breakers’ a film which actually damages this one during the famous shirts scene, as a much better version of it was done by Franco in that film. Perhaps the first and only film to suffer, post-Spring Breakers For all the hype regarding Luhrmann’s ‘wild’ and ‘different’ take on this tale, one cannot help but be disappointed by how relatively formal it is considering the potential. However one also cannot deny that visually and technically, this is a well-made film and is much more vibrant than most literary adaptations.
Luhrmann gives a good account of himself behind the camera yet not in front of the typewriter. An unnecessary framing device is added which serves to lag the pace in the first act and elongate the overly long running time. While Luhrmann visually builds up much tension and has some incredibly exciting, artistic and brilliantly done scenes, he did not seem to have the same invention or energy when writing the screenplay. However Luhrmann has the privilege of lifting much of his dialogue from the brilliant prose of F. Scott Fitzgerald, at times simply putting the text on the screen as if aware that he simply cannot match the book’s brilliance. However these moments also speak to the purgatory that this film exists within. Instead of committing fully to the cinematic equivalent of Fitzgerald’s prose in beautiful visuals, Baz flirts with both flourishes and formalism to varying effect. The film’s pacing is problematic and despite many of the film’s best moments occurring late in the third act, I was more than ready for it to end. The issue is, in going with the tragic romance side of the story, if you’re not swept up in and moved by this romance, then it is boring you. I was never as emotionally moved by this film as I wished to be and I know others have. The fact that teenage girls are responding best to this film tells you a lot about Luhrmann’s approach and priorities.
The cast is solid and this film once again continues to demonstrate why Leonardo Dicaprio is one of the best actors of his generation. A scene within a New York hotel room which is simply actors antagonizing one another is the high point of the film. A moment when the style is stripped away (Yet crucially is used in the build-up) and it is simply brilliant actors, spouting brilliant dialogue. Tobey Maguire has the genuine earnestness and naiveté of Nick down perfectly, however one cannot help but occasionally get unwelcome reminders of his work as Peter Parker, particularly in Spider-Man 3. Joel Edgerton is superb as Tom, while Mulligan is effective as Daisy, although at one crucial moment the film appears to take the edges of her character and throughout doesn’t seem to present quite the damning character that Fitzgerald did, a shame for Mulligan who all too frequently throughout the film is only given one dimension to play with. The way in which her character is treated can be seen as representative towards Luhrmann's attitude throughout, which akin to Spring Breakers, at times seems problematically rather more celebratory than critical.
Overall The Great Gatsby is a visually interesting, well-acted, overly long and at times rather problematic portrayal of the book. I appreciated what it was going for even if I wasn’t entirely swept up by it. A script that didn’t feel the need to unnecessarily add a framing device and which treated certain elements more finely, coupled with an even braver visual approach would have resulted in a much stronger film for me personally, however I am aware that I am in the majority with the former and minority with latter.
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
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