At times, Baz Luhrmann’s ambition rivals that of the titular character to create a flawed yet absolutely rewarding and awesome experience.
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writer(s): Baz Luhrman, Craig Pearce
Based on: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki
Released: May 10, 2013
Plot: Nick Carraway is a bonds salesman who has just moved to New York during the 1920s. He meets and befriends his enigmatic millionaire and neighbor, Jay Gatsby. Soon, Nick becomes caught up in the love affair between Gatsby and the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, wife to Tom.
Like the film, I will start with the bad.
Similar to Les Miserables, the opening of The Great Gatsby is not promising at all. The orgy of visuals that pervade everything prior to Gatsby’s meeting with Daisy is abrasive and uneven. Nick rightly points out the wonders of the time with the parties “getting bigger and liquor even cheaper,” but there are too many distractions such as the restless camera and music for someone who hasn’t read the novel to properly digest what’s being said.
The camera man seems to be on a sugar rush since the camerawork can’t seem to sit still. I understand Luhrmann has a very distinct style, a style I greatly admire, but as Nick meets the Buchanans, gets blasted, goes to the absolutely zany parties, visits the speakeasy with Gatsby and Wolfsheim, even the “pleasant” tea date with Jordan, it all feels as if Luhrmann had to just get all that zany energy out of his system so that the real movie could start.
When The Great Gatsby really started though, it became something else entirely. The film find its footing when Gatsby meets with Daisy, and from then on, the movie just gets better and better. We can actually digest the surroundings now, and the camera work becomes steadier and the characters become more intriguing. Now we can really hear the dialogue and get swept up in this bold vision of the Jazz Age and its amoral inhabitants.
Tobey Maguire, who seemed to be the iffy casting card, is reliable and likable as the passive, honest, and observant Nick Caraway who narrates the story as one large flashback. He tells his story to a psychiatrist in a sanitarium where he is being seen about his insomnia and alcoholism. McGuire fits the part neatly.
As does Joel Edgerton as Daisy’s “brute-of-a-man” husband, Tom Buchanan. Edgerton easily could have stuck to stock and give us a wholly unlikable bully who wants nobody’s hands on his girl even while he is cheating on her, but that is not the case. Tom is portrayed with depth and at times even sympathy by Edgerton making for one of the better performances in the film.
The best performance***, though, has to go to Jay Gatsby himself, Leonardo DiCaprio. His illusions that he holds onto so strongly makes the tragic spirit of the book so well versed that you may find yourself caught up in his hopeful spell until the camera shifts to Nick’s reactions. DiCaprio predictably delivers, and it is one of his best performances.
Carey Mulligan’s Daisy is enchanting and lovely, yet fickle and unstable. She is perfectly casted as whom I consider to be the most fascinating and enigmatic character. Mulligan adds to Daisy’s allure by making her thoughts uneasy to read, however, there are moments during Gatsby and Daisy’s affair where the music comes in suggesting us to feel a certain way and nearly squanders or simplifies that allure.
Speaking of allure, Baz Luhrmann’s bold vision is the elephant in the room that will either put off viewers or draw them in even more much like his past efforts Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet. Visually, this film is breathtaking. Expect an Oscar nominations for Art Direction, Production Design, and Costume Design.. There is much CGI, but he is able to make it work.
The freshness that comes with this look and the colors chosen furthers his stated goal of making the film feel contemporary. The choice to use modern music as well as period music is boldly satisfying most of the time. There are some moments like in the off-putting scene where Nick parties with Tom and Myrtle, that feel somewhat desperate to be like our present, but the music slowly finds a steadier footing as the film goes on. Nevertheless, this time travelling soundtrack and the fresh visuals make Gatsby feel like a modern day period piece.
The astounding imagery helps the movie thematically especially as it gets closer and closer to the end. From the chipping of the ice in the hotel room, to George Wilson’s turning of the cloth in his drawer from the sight of pearls to the gun, to the powerful image of Gatsby under water, and of course, to the disappearing green light in the end, we are given a stunning tragedy.
Even though first 20-30 minutes of The Great Gatsby hold the film back from being phenomenal, Baz Lurrman’s astonishing vision of one of the most celebrated literary works of the last century manages to find its footing and proceed to resemble the titular character: mythic, tragic, and powerful.
Plus, by the time The Great Gatsby ends, no matter if you disliked it or if you got goosebumps like I did, it will no doubt help high schoolers with their book reports.
***EDIT: Upon second viewing, I must retract my statement that DiCaprio delievers the strongest performance; Edgerton’s performance elevates the film even further. Just watch that climactic hotel room scene and you’ll know that this he should be a definite Supporting Actor Oscar contender.
Written by AUSTIN CAMPBELL
What the Other Guys Thought…
STEVEN– 3.5/5 stars
FLAVIO– 3/5 stars
Other then the abysmal soundtrack that totally killed the tone of the movie, it was enjoyable although it didn’t live up to my expectations. The second half was much better than the first and the ending was great.
ZACH– 3.5/5 stars