Review: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann

Flapper turns to flopper.

It brings me great displeasure to say that I did not entirely enjoy Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece “The Great Gatsby.” Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this is just how close it came to meeting my expectations.

Luhrmann’s cinematography and his choice of angles make you feel as drunk as the dancing flappers and bootleggers in the film. For the most part, it’s disorienting but still breathtaking at the same time. The 1920’s music interwoven with rap and modern R&B also contributes to the feeling that you’re at the party. It’s nothing short of genius.

As for the other modern aspects, I still struggle to decide if its often 21st century feel of the film takes away from or enhances the original story. It feels more dramatic than the book, but perhaps because you can literally see the rip on the side of Myrtle’s mouth, the desperation in Gatsby’s eyes, and  the glittery gold and metallic shimmer of martini glasses and beaded silver headpieces on showgirls.

The main deviation from the novel surrounds the changes made to Nick Carraway’s character, played by Tobey Maguire. The filmmakers decided to make Carraway, the narrator on the outside looking in, mirror the actual F. Scott Fitzgerald in a way that, to me, came off a little like a cop out. Scenes from assumedly the past will be interrupted with questions from Carraway’s shrink as they recount the events together. It’s much like any other movie that takes the same route in storytelling, but it didn’t feel right for Gatsby, most likely because Fitzgerald’s brilliance never required therapists to prompt the story along.

Nonetheless, I did thoroughly appreciate their use of Fitzgerald’s prose. They made the correct choice in taking advantage of his lines for it’s not just his story we fell in love with, but his words as well. This lent to a few stunning visual effects, most notably the letters falling like snow in the streets of New York and Gatsby’s cursive handwritten letter to Daisy dissolving like disappearing ink over scenes of their reunion.

The casting of Leonardo DiCaprio worked well, not because of his acting, but because of him simply being handsome Leo. It will not stand out on his long list of accolade-worthy roles. I always enjoy Carey Mulligan on screen, but she had the tough job of playing a rather shallow and frivolous young woman. The depth therefore might have been impossible to give. Tobey Maguire feels appropriate in the role as an outsider, but often lacks enough variety of response and reaction to pull off the character. Multiple times in the movie, you’ll find him widening his eyes in the same exact way like an geeky high school boy looking at the girl of his dreams.

While the acting may not be what is remembered about this movie, I must say that Joel Edgerton truly steals the show with his portrayal of Tom Buchanan. His masculinity, brutish nature and braun seems even more domineering and animalistic in the film, but at the same time, raw and regretful. I found myself mostly watching him and Elizabeth Debicki, an Australian actress whose surprisingly good portrayal of Jordan Baker should transform her into a rising star. While her physical appearance feels extremely skinny for an athlete, it somehow works.

At the end of the film, you do feel just as empty and disillusioned as Carraway. The parties, the jewels, the colors, the drinking have all come to an end in a melancholic way, but it still doesn’t hold the same closure as reading Fitzgerald’s ending. I have some feeling that Luhrmann may have wanted the audience to feel that way as the story comes to a close. But I didn’t feel as sad about Daisy and Gatsby as I did about the actual adaptation. It’s doubtful that it will receive any award nominations or a place in my mind as a great film. It will end like Gatsby… with grand showmanship once appreciated but soon forgotten.