The Great Gatsby Review
Among the great works of American literature, The Great Gatsby finds its way onto the big screen once more, this time as part of a much larger spectacle spearheaded by Moulin Rouge! director Baz Luhrmann. The gregarious Lothario is played effortlessly by Leonardo DiCaprio, joining Tobey Maguire as struggling writer Nick Carraway and Carey Mulligan as Daisy, the object of Gatsby’s affections. Yet, for all its visual ferocity, Luhrmann’s adaptation loses much of the poignancy and nuance of its source material, instead opting for over-the-top garishness and hyperbole. He presents F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel as a cacophonous assault on the senses, demonstrating little respect for its themes or indeed any opinion on the text beyond its aesthetic possibilities.
The 2013 version relates its tale in flashbacks, framed by Carraway’s struggles with insomnia and alcoholism in a local sanatorium. Recalling his trials and tribulations with the enigmatic Gatsby, he remembers his early life as a fresh-faced bond salesman and his inauguration into a life of lasciviousness and debauchery upon rekindling a friendship with cousin Daisy and her brutish millionaire husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Invited to attend one of Gatsby’s ostentatious gatherings, he becomes drawn into the world of his host. Rumours circle that the man’s great wealth comes from illegal means, though nobody seems to know the real truth.
The potential was there, what with the sensible casting of DiCaprio (which really does pay off, it must be said) and a whopping budget of $120 million at Luhrmann’s disposal – the ideal means with which to bring an already-perfected tale of bad timing and mistaken love to a 21st century audience much as he had done with Romeo + Juliet. Yet whilst The Great Gatsby is commendable in its ambition, Luhrmann attempts to make his version much bigger than the book. As with the waves of blockbusters thrown at us year after year, this is a film with one eye on the trailer, selling us on the promise of wild blow-outs and familiar faces filling those coveted roles. It doesn’t want to do anything else other than indulge in the moral turpitude of its ‘roaring twenties’ setting, albeit on a purely visual level rather than anything suggesting depth.
Certain moments do evoke the charm and eloquence of Fitzgerald’s narrative, such as Daisy and Gatsby reuniting over brunch at Nick’s house, a scene which is played for laughs – and gets some, too. There is also a well-acted sequence in a Plaza hotel suite which hints at, if only momentarily, a more complex and contradictory Gatsby than the one we’ve been witness to so far. But such moments aren’t enough to turn this heavy-handed impression into anything more than a fetishized look at the turbulence of the time period. Costume designer, and wife of Luhrmann, Catherine Martin should be congratulated on her work, as the sharp suits and feathered-frocks really bring the era to life. Yet, it’s Luhrmann’s choice to serenade the film with an irritating score that ultimately takes precedence, as you can’t appreciate the delicacies of the Jazz Age when it comes accompanied by André 3000 and dubstep.