Review: The Great Gatsby



Leonardo DiCaprio headlines Luhrmann's adaptation of the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

Leonardo DiCaprio headlines Luhrmann’s adaptation of the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

I knew I was going to go and see Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby 15 seconds into the very first trailer, as Tobey Maguire’s drawling narration painted a picture of New York in the “roaring 20s” where “the buildings were taller, the parties were bigger, the morals were looser and the liquor was cheaper….the restlessness approached hysteria” all matched by a serious spectacle of colour. That drew me in, bigtime.

I’m writing this particular review from what I suppose is somewhat of a unique perspective. I watched the movie without having read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, a work I’m only familiar with through a half remembered viewing of the Paul Rudd/Toby Stephens made for TV adaptation in 2000. Having seen it, I then went and read the actual text, (available online here, if you’re interested) since it wasn’t actually too long anyway. I did this deliberately, because I wanted, on this occasion, to view the adaptation and then get a first-look comparison with the source material, on the basis of many other reviews that have given Luhrmann’s work low marks on that score.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a young member of a golden generation of American youth, returning from victory in World War One to a land filled with opportunity, modern ideas and seemingly unending profits. Moving in to a rich area of New York State, he finds himself neighbours with mysterious “new money”  millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) who hosts lavish parties every weekend. Nick gets drawn into Gatsby’s life when the titular character tries to re-ignite a past love affair he had with Nick’s socialite cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who is one half of an unstable and destructive marriage with “old money” Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgarton).

This is a bit of an odd review, insofar as I’m offering thoughts on one of the most analysed, debated and critiqued plotlines in the last 90 years, though I can at least honestly claim to be free of most potential bias due to my previous ignorance.

I liked the plot of The Great Gatsby overall. It’s a slow, ponderous thing at times, but this is certainly a compelling story, based around two different men who find their lives crashing together at a critical point in American history. If asked what kind of a story I would consider The Great Gatsby to be, I would first say a “tragic romance”, followed by “coming of age” with a little bit of “period piece” “romantic comedy” and “family drama” thrown in for good measure. Gatsby is all of these things at different points, but at its core remains a simple tale of Nick’s interaction with Jay Gatsby, what Nick learns from him, and how both men come to be changed by their experiences living in “West Egg”.

The main thing is tragic romance though, something Baz Luhrmann has had plenty of experience with in the past. Gatsby isn’t a patch on the likes of Moulin Rouge, but it’s still got that same aching sense of sadness to it. This is undoubtedly a very sad story, from Nick’s first awakening in the sanatorium right down to the final “holocaust” of Gatsby’s death and the aftermath. Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy leads, almost inevitably, to the final disaster and there is plenty of unease, disquiet and morbidity along the way, leaving the viewer almost with a sense of emotional exhaustion by the films conclusion. This is a bit of a contrast with the book, where chapters denote periods where it is easier to walk away from the story, if only for a while, unlike a movie, where the full range of despair hits you repeatedly for two and a half hours without pause. Gatsby’s quest to get Daisy back and fulfil his plan is a dark and sombre one, only briefly enlightened by the all too short resurrection of their affair, one doomed by Daisy’s own ignorance of what she really wants out of life and Gatsby’s inability to recognise that his plans are not shared by his intended. Sad doesn’t mean bad though, and Gatsby, while an emotional rollercoaster on this score, is at least an interesting rollercoaster, the kind that you’re glad you took.

It’s through Nick that it’s a coming of age story. Nick is no child, but he begins the story from a very helpful, cheerful place, ready to try and face into a new world of stocks and bonds, doing so with a smile on his face. The parties that Gatsby throws drag him into the seedier side of New York and the eastern lifestyle, a side that eventual consumes and threatens to destroy him and his sanity. His journey is one of coming to understand that we can’t all have happy endings, that love and romance are not perfect things, and that, in the end, cynicism overcomes all. Nick is an awe of Gatsby and everything that he represents, but it’s nothing that Nick can ever have, not through lack of money or ambition, but because of the innate difference in their natures. Nearly all of Gatsby’s material things – his mansion, his parties, his “cool shirts” – are just a means to an end that he treats with astonishing carelessness and lack of concern. Gatsby has his focus, and it’s all about that green light on the other end of the bay. Everything else is just to get there. Nick’s journey, his coming of age, is to see this dream and this behaviour, to become part of it, and then to depart from it when it becomes clear for the delusion that it really is, a destructive one. Nick leaves us with positive feelings about Gatsby, some hope among the cynicism, but Carraway is a damaged person by the conclusion, far from the golden boy he was at the beginning.

It’s a period piece, as it shows off all of the glitz, glamour and debauchery of the “Jazz Age”. This is a story that couldn’t really be told in any other era without losing something very important, relating to the American culture of exceptionalism, industry and the first great age of Wall Street. It’s a romantic comedy, with some humour sprinkled throughout and a few awkward scenes played up for laughs. It’s a family drama, with the Buchanan’s, a unit on the brink of a destructive finale, but in the end marked by two people who are bizarrely perfect for one another in different ways. It’s a violent tragedy at the conclusion, a sudden dramatic turn with the death of Myrtle, which certainly adds a great degree of much needed tension to the story following a lapse in any excitement.

This is a surprisingly straight adaptation of the source material. Much commentary on the movie has come on the specific interpretation that Luhrmann has gone with, but that’s almost entirely in terms of visuals and musical choices. In terms of plot and dialogue, The Great Gatsby includes nearly everything. Inflection and performance can alter things around, but Luhrmann cannot be realistically accused of aping Fitzgerald’s book and then muddling it about. With the exception of a brief sub-plot involving Carraway and Jordan Baker and a handful of other, minor omissions (Gatsby’s father being present at the funeral was the biggest one I could spot) this is a very faithful movie. Gatsby, the book that is, isn’t that long and such a straight adaptation fits into the 140 minute running time well enough.

The big exception is the overall framing, with Nick Carraway narrating his story from a psychiatric institution. That certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I can appreciate that Luhrmann was seeking a way to maintain the best part of Gatsby – Nick’s narration – within the framework of a movie, to come with a reason as to why Carraway is speaking over everything.

DiCaprio's Gatsby is well played as the dashing, yet somewhat delusional, billionaire, but Carey Mulligan as Daisy isn't pulling her weight.

DiCaprio’s Gatsby is well played as the dashing, yet somewhat delusional, billionaire, but Carey Mulligan as Daisy isn’t pulling her weight.

But I felt that Luhrmann perhaps should have been a bit more liberal with the editing room knife. Parts of Gatsby drags interminably, especially the final act, with the entire sequence based around the revealing of Gatsby and Daisy’s affair seeming to last forever and ever. The key to adaptation is the ability to take what is necessary to change a written story into a compelling and entertaining one in film, while having the confidence and the commitment to cut out the stuff that is no longer required. You could argue that, given that her scenes and role of most importance were largely cut anyway, that Baker could have been disposed off entirely. You could argue that the aforementioned revealing scene could have started out in the plaza, something that would have severely helped with its lethargy issues. You could argue that the party scenes, those garish spectacles that have been set up as such a key part of Gatsby’s attraction, could have been reduced.

They weren’t, and the result is some pacing problems that lower the overall quality. This is not some multi-generational epic after all, this is a tale that is, in truth, little more than an extended short story. You don’t get that feeling watching this movie.

Tobey Maguire isn’t really the best choice for Nick. The vast majority of his lines come from narration, and his offering is rather bland and uninspired. The sombreness of his voice doesn’t match much of what we see onscreen and in terms of portraying a man whose mid-west values come under attack from the sin of the east, Maguire falls flat. Parts of his performance, like his naivety at the start or his anger at Gatsby’s funeral seem very overdone and Maguire just doesn’t seem to fit right. His relationship with Gatsby is largely marked by dialogue weighted heavily to DiCaprio, leaving Maguire’s character with a lack of much to do other than to simply be there and act as the eyes of the audience.

I liked Maguire’s depiction of Nick’s closing cynicism and his general man crush on Gatsby, but ultimately this story isn’t being carried by him. The lack of that key Baker sub-plot badly affects the character’s development in his own right (his closing self-summation of his own lack of honesty and honour is, with Baker, missing), and Maguire is left trying to pick up the pieces of a fractured narrative. At times you just wonder why Nick is even there, especially after he is overtaken as the main focus of the production by Gatsby and Daisy. He makes Nick sympathetic; probably the most sympathetic character in the whole affair, but that might be more to do with all the other characters.

DiCaprio brings us Gatsby, playing him with all of the required charm, grace and obsession. I don’t need to tell anyone how good an actor DiCaprio is, though he won’t be breaking that unfortunate Oscar streak with this one. It is important for the Gatsby character to create a believable facade for most of his interactions with people, only for the inner reality to come through in an equally believable fashion when it has to. I think that DiCaprio accomplishes that, whether it is in his private moments with Daisy or his intense flash of anger with Tom nearer the conclusion.

I never found Gatsby to be the sympathetic, almost heroic character that Nick and Fitzgerald’s prose makes him out to be, and part of that is the sterling job that DiCaprio has done is showcasing the unrelenting obsession that makes up Gatsby, his inability to let go of his dream and his complete failure to see Daisy for what she really is. DiCaprio’s Gatsby is more delusional than hopeful for me, a pathetic individual chasing after a girl who isn’t really interested in him as a man, but only as a possible escape. DiCaprio gives us a nuanced, patient approach to this dilemma, and when he waxes on about the moment he gave his heart to Daisy, we believe it, we’re in that moment, just as much as he is, even if we maintain the conscious thought that it is really all a sham.

DiCaprio’s warm engaging smile when Nick first meets him, his glee when throwing his shirts around, his fear at being considered a “nobody”, his awkwardness when trying to meet Daisy again, his anger when Tom finally gets to him, his unbeatable cheer near his death, DiCaprio shows us a range and emotional spectrum that is impressive to say the least. Gatsby, as a man, is an act, right down to his assumed name and DiCaprio does an excellent job at giving us that act.

Carey Mulligan is Daisy. She’s fairly one note, a fading southern belle with men wrapped around her finger. Daisy in the book comes across as far more enchanting than Mulligan’s depiction – the girl who was a big part of what made “Blink” so great is little more than a whining debutante here. I didn’t really buy her attractive nature, what made men crazy over her. Mulligan is saying the lines in a quiet , reserved manner, and captures something of Daisy’s inner sadness, cowardice and recklessness by the conclusion, but she is mostly unimpressive, a character defined by the blind interest shown in her by others. Her accent is catching but Daisy needed, for much of the first half of the story anyway, to be more sympathetic and relatable than how she was portrayed.

Joel Edgarton is as close as we get to a real villain. His Tom is a boorish, jock-like hypocrite, and bar DiCaprio, the best of the limited class. From the opening shots where he is at pains to show himself off as a powerful learned man to Nick and company – throwing footballs and discussing racial “science” – through his relationship with Myrtle right down to his reconciliation with Daisy near the conclusion, Edgarton never leaves us in doubt as to the morally bankrupt slimeball that Tom is. His elitist diatribe to Gatsby in the hotel is a stand-out moment, the cherry on the top of one of the most privileged and infuriating characters in literature. Edgarton’s Tom is a child, the kind that wants his cake and to eat it too, to have the beautiful wife and house, and the sleazy mistress on the side, and who rants and raves when he doesn’t get his way. Unlike Daisy, he is able to strike several notes at once.

In most respects he’s the polar opposite of Gatsby – who in his act is more cultured than the genuine Buchanan – but in a strange way I left the film with a less negative opinion of Tom than you might think. I believed that he did genuinely love Daisy and that the character at least believed that his bouts of infidelity were an inherent thing that he couldn’t control. He offers Daisy reality – a painful one to be sure, but reality none the less – and in the end, he’s a far better match for her than Gatsby ever was. Edgarton and Mulligan don’t work especially well onscreen, an aggravating flaw, as the back and forth between the two doesn’t flow as well as it should. I’d blame Mulligan more for it though, and Gatsby lacks a really compelling reason as to why their marriage exists in the first place through their performances, save for some brief quiet moments near the end.

Maguire could be a little better as the narrating Nick, but manages to play off the Gatsby character in a thought-provoking way.

Maguire could be a little better as the narrating Nick, but manages to play off the Gatsby character in a thought-provoking way.

Isla Fisher is Tom’s mistress, Myrtle. As in the book, she doesn’t have much time to grab our attention or to really explain what it is about her that drives Tom so wild. She comes off as money-grabbing and naive, just another unwilling victim of the Buchanan’s standard operating procedure when it comes to relationships. Jason Clarke is her long suffering husband, a despicable specimen who is the very physical embodiment of the “valley of ashes”, working-class, uneducated, grubby and uncaring of anything other than his work. Easily malleable, Clark’s character is pointed towards Gatsby at the conclusion all too easily.

Elizabeth Debicki is Jordan Baker. Her reduced role, largely anonymous for most of the second half, is unfortunate, though largely for the Nick character than for the overall story. The infatuation and love between the two is only casually inferred and hinted at, and some of the books more memorable moments that feature the two are thrown to the wayside. Debicki is fine as the pompous, darkly humoured Baker, but the role, in this reduced format, seems rather pointless. Nick’s interaction with Baker, from my reading of the novel, was his own personal look into how the perils of New York could radically alter his moral centre, his lifestyle and his values, in comparison with the conflict that Gatsby and Daisy were going through at the same time. With the Carraway/Baker relationship non-existent, Maguire and Debicki have missed a chance to add something very important to the story.

The only other actor worth mentioning is Amitabh Backchan as the gangster Meyer Wolfsheim. His scene is brief, but memorable, the drawl and words sticking in the mind long after the actual character has departed the stage. Backchan managed to make Wolfsheim both somewhat endearing and suitably unnerving in his few minutes, and that was critical for much of the rest of Gatsby, where Wolfsheim’s presence in Gatsby’s affairs is rather important.

Most of the discussion surrounding this film though has come from its visual choices and style. It’s Baz Luhrmann after all; Moulin Rouge was his masterpiece of colour and spectacle with Romeo + Juliet not far behind (check out the similarity between those party scenes), and it is clear that he is trying to recapture a little bit of that here.

His Gatsby is a glorious looking production alright, in so many ways. Its’ more than just the dazzling lights of Gatsby’s parties, the 20’s style dresses and tuxedos or the grimy underbelly in the Valley of Ashes. It’s the CGI work that goes into creating the glowing heart of New York City, the green light at the far end of the bay, the interesting effects shots like when Nick waxes poetically on the complexity of life in the city and the windows multiply and form together.

It is so very, very pretty, garish in many ways, but all the right ways. This is, after all, a story very much about the hollowness of such splendour, so it makes sense to make it as eye-catching as possible, to better show off the darkness that follows after. So much of the negativity surrounding Luhrmann’s production comes from what many see as an over-emphasis on the visual side, but I didn’t get that feeling. I thought the colour and the pageantry was enough to surround and enhance the story, not to detract from it. The party scenes are long and repeated, but in the overall running length of the movie they aren’t that time consuming. There is plenty else here to please the eye, like Gatsby’s mansion all lit up, the opening shots of Tom playing polo (a wonderful overhead panning movement across the Buchanan mansion) and the billowing curtain introduction of Daisy and Baker.

Maybe Luhrmann goes too far on occasion, like the initial introduction of Gatsby or towards the end of his party scenes when the entire thing just threatens to overwhelm the senses or the 50th time you see the flashing green light accompanied by that irritating thermin sound. But those are rare, brief moments. Something as simple as choosing to “show, not tell”, taking only partial pieces of Fitzgerald’s descriptive words and letting the camera do the rest (for example, in the opening scenes of Nick moving into his cottage, Fitzgerald has a lengthy, paragraph describing the visual nature of the sets of books he has ordered on stocks and bonds. Luhrmann chooses to keep only the opening sentence, and lets the eyes of the audience do the rest, with the books recreated almost exactly from Fitzgerald’s original description, for a shot lasting all of two seconds) is important and good to see.

Luhrmann perhaps also falls back on some traditional symbols from the story too much, hammering the same points over and over again. The green light is the main one, though the fault there might actually be Fitzgerald’s for all but spelling out just what it means to Gatsby. There is also the bespectacled eyes of God in the Valley of Ashes, a rather tawdry metaphor I thought was over the top and the continuing motif of telephones bringing or being associated with bad news.

Probably my main complaint visually is the 3D, which is, like almost all 3D productions, unnecessary and rather worthless when to comes to enhancing the experience.

One of the main attractions for an audience for this film, especially one, like me, who have not read the book beforehand, will be the visual side of things. Luhrmann’s Gatsby might lack the heart, the all-round strong performances and compellingness of Moulin Rouge, but it is a decent work all on its own.

The Great Gatsby invokes Luhrmann's usual symphony of color and spectacle.

The Great Gatsby invokes Luhrmann’s usual symphony of color and spectacle.

Script wise, I’m at a loss to really point out anything really major or game-changing that Luhrmann had added. There are dialogue moments that are switched around a bit, a few chops and changes, but in the end it is still F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words being spoken onscreen. Any discussion of the merits and demerits of the script are essentially the same for the book’s dialogue.

The Great Gatsby, book and film, does not have a plot for the ages, not really. It is in the books language, which the film retains, that it finds its zenith, the reason it is so loved. Keeping most of that intact was critical.

Of course some of it is a little hard to contemplate. There will be plenty of people, rightly really, a little bewildered on the novels closing lines for example, when the cliff notes are not available. But that is such a trivial thing really. The prose here, the narration of New York life and the description of the excess is something to be enjoyed. The painfully awkward moments in parts of the script, like Nick and Baker’s part in the Plaza or Gatsby’s stuttering attempts to schedule his first re-union with Daisy simply add a much needed air of reality to some parts. Fitzgerald had a gift for that kind of thing. Luhrmann occasionally adds his own interpretation, the biggest being, perhaps, Gatsby’s explosive anger in the Plaza Hotel, where he lets the walls come down and the frustrations of five years of role-playing become real. That moment was more understated in the book, but I felt the outburst fit in the movie.

Luhrmann chooses to go with one other garish visual effect for the script, actually placing some of Fitzgerald’s most famous prose – sections of Nick’s narration – onscreen in big letters, sometimes in the joined writing of the manuscript Carraway is writing, sometimes typed. It’s an interesting effect to go for, but fairly unnecessary. There is some beautiful language on display here, but it wasn’t anything too expansive or incomprehensible that it couldn’t possibly have simply been spoken, as opposed to, literally, being spelled out.

The other big talking point of Luhrmann’s interpretation is the soundtrack. The score is predictable and forgettable of course, but it is the contemporary stuff that draws comment. I find little to criticise. Luhrmann seamlessly blended in modern music with Moulin Rouge, so he has a good track record: Gatsby is more of the same. The mixing of hip-hop tracks with the Jazz of the Jazz Age is carried out really well, and the excess and privilege associated with the modern rap/hip-hop genre is suited to the activities being portrayed onscreen in The Great Gatsby. Some individual songs are also extremely memorable, not least Lana Del Ray’s haunting “Young and Beautiful” as a theme for Gatsby and Daisy. As with the visual side of things, I think the complaints over anachronistic music are largely unfounded. I suppose some might view it as a distraction from the words and story of Fitzgerald, but I prefer to think of them merely as an accompaniment.

Moving onto themes, and we all know that’s something Gatsby has boatloads of. I’ll be as brief as I can. That main one I can see is a combination of love, obsession and “crashing”. Love in the Gatsby world is a very odd thing, at once fleeting and childish, at others strong and obsessive. Gatsby’s entire world is built around his love for Daisy, but it’s all for nought. His obsession is his undoing, an obsession that see’s him ignore painful truths, like the locked-in nature of Daisy’s marriage, her daughter with Tom, her complete dependence on the decadent lifestyle she enjoys and what Nick see’s as an infinite capacity for hope in Gatsby can easily be seen as the worst kind of destructive delusion by others. Daisy uses love in the most haphazard way, flitting from man to man, entangling with Tom, Gatsby and Nick at one time or another in different ways, aware of the power of obsession, using it like a drug to escape the monotony of married life. Nick enters into his own limited love affair with Baker, a shallow kind with no prospect of long-term survival.

All of these characters crash into each other in different ways and everyone comes out of it damaged and changed. Daisy and Tom make a habit of ruining lives through their lusts and affections, having the power to simply walk away whenever they choose – something they have done before and will probably do again. When Daisy loses her nerve and begs Tom to take her away from the Plaza, it’s an awful moment, the moment when her weakness and spinelessness is on full display. Gatsby is the victim, though as much of his own hubris as anything. Tom inadvertently destroys the lives of George and Myrtle through his affairs and his loutish behaviour, and cons himself into thinking that he loved the mechanic’s wife as a way of getting back at Gatsby. Like Daisy with the title character, it’s just another crash, another reason to move home.

The characters in this story seem to have no real sense of the catastrophes they are putting other people through. Nick is left jaded, cynical and on the verge of a nervous breakdown by it all, Baker’s relationship with Carraway comes to an ignominious end, Tom and Daisy’s pathetic charade of a marriage limps on in all of its false finery and Gatsby pays the ultimate price for his dream. Nick comes out of the whole thing with this oddly positive view of Gatsby, a view I did not share. There are no heroes in The Great Gatsby.

That ties into the next theme: friendship, or rather, the use of friendship. For me, I never really got any firm indication that the key relationship of the book/film, Nick and Gatsby, was a two way street. Nick is in awe of Gatsby, his wealth, his charm, his positive nature, but Gatsby never really seems to reciprocate those feelings for Nick.

In fact, the only reason Gatsby is interested in Nick in the first place is because of Nick’s connection to Daisy. Gatsby uses Nick to set up their re-union. In the process he tries to involve Nick in some shady bond deals with his gangster pal, something he appears to be ashamed of later. Once Gatsby has Daisy back in his life, Nick is less and less important to him, save for the conclusion when he is a convenient target for Jay Gatz to pour out his life story too. Gatsby uses Nick for his own ends, and Nick, so wrapped up in his bromance that he can’t really see straight, falls for it. Gatsby’s death seals his final impression of this “great” man, even though Nick’s life would probably have been far better if they had never met.

The Great Gatsby is ultimately about the title characters unyielding obsession, and how it destroys him.

The Great Gatsby is ultimately about the title characters unyielding obsession, and how it destroys him.

Then there is Old vs New, traditionally empowered families like the Buchanan’s against the rising fortunes of people like Gatsby. The subtle enmity and conflict between the lives and words of West Egg and East Egg residents is seen through many characters. The outwardly refined residents of West Egg hide dark sides and despicable behaviour, while the East Siders like Gatsby and Nick also show an outward sheen of charm and class, only for the facade to become very much evident as time goes on. The East Egg is the new America, boisterous, fun-loving, dangerous in its connections and idealistic to a fault. The West is more conservative, traditional, reserved, all about bloodlines and past glories. In the end, the West Eggers fly from the area in the face of the enormous impact the place has had on them and their lifestyle, while the decadent front of the East Egg gets shown up for the miserable tawdry thing that it really is by the conclusion.

Excess is a theme that can be seen everywhere, mostly in a visual format, but also in more subtle ways. Gatsby’s parties are a celebration of excess, of all the opulence, debauchery and boozing of the Jazz Age. The unfortunate aftermath of this type of partying is something to be brushed aside and forgotten in time for the next one. But characters like Tom and Daisy, who mostly shy away from the over the top spectacle of Gatsby’s world, have their own form of excess, in their drinking and lewd behaviour. It’s behind closed doors, but that doesn’t make it that much better. In the end, Gatsby is marked by a surrounding of excess, of looser morals, of plentiful alcohol and all that it brings, that heady mixture of arrogance and confidence that leads to the downfall of so many characters.

Lastly, there is the theme of the retcon, of starting over; perhaps the most crucial as this idea cuts to the very heart of the Gatsby character. He does not want to be the “nobody” he started out life as. Ever since he rescued the millionaire on the boat, he has strived to be anything but “Jay Gatz”, going as far as to adopt the old-timey mannerisms of his newly-found master, a sort of comfort blanket whenever he finds himself having to really force the illusion upon others – “Old Sport” might well serve as Gatsby’s indication of constant battle to be more than what he once was. Gatsby is single-minded to the purpose of becoming “great” but this all takes on a very bad focus when he meets Daisy. Since then, it has all been about her, and the lost five years are his obsession, the thing he wants to banish. He plans to do so in the most controlling way, mapping out every facet of his future life with Daisy, his dream of recreating the past as much as he can, over the objections of the realistic Nick.

The final lines of the novel and the film tie into this idea. Nick admires Gatsby for his relentless hunt to create a better world for himself, to rebuild what he had five years ago. Nick conveniently ignores the lies and the crime that has allowed Gatsby to try and reach that point, but you can understand the narrators wonder at meeting a man so focused, so obsessed on that one point. Nick leaves the novel a mostly cynical individual, but finds that one ray of hope in the idea that, if America continues to strive toward it, they can find better worlds, akin to the old, purer days, even if life continually tries to force us all in one unpalatable forward direction.

In conclusion, I think I liked Luhrmann’s Gatsby. DiCaprio is great, like always, the dialogue is good, the visuals are stunning and the soundtrack is immense. Much of the rest of the cast is mediocre, the pacing is off and there are several other tiny quibbles, but I think it is safe to say that Gatsby does enough to be better than its worst parts. It fails to reach the heights of Moulin Rouge and certainly won’t be to the taste of every F. Scott Fitzgerald fan, but it doesn’t deserve the paltry assessments it has largely received from most. If you liked the book, you should enjoy this movie. If you haven’t read it, you should still enjoy the movie, for all of the reasons listed above.

You won’t come out of The Great Gatsby happy or placated, and maybe not even fully entertained. It will make you sad and despondent for the most part. But it will make you think, consider and appreciate some truly wonderful literary language. In the end, the most basic positives I can list are that it is a great viewing experience on both a story telling and a technical level. Recommended.

A downbeat but moving adaptation of the novel, which suffers nothing for the more modern elements inserted.

A downbeat but moving adaptation of the novel, which suffers nothing for the more modern elements inserted.

(All images copyright of Warner Bros. Pictures)

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6 Responses to Review: The Great Gatsby

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