Review: The Great Gatsby


There’s no denying tha Baz Luhrmann has a visual style all of his own; quick pans, bright colours and lots of movement. So, for him to recreate the definitive American novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald seemed like a bit of an odd, even with the job he did with Romeo + Juliet.

But, when you think about it, it’s the perfect time to retell this story and Luhrmann is as good a shout as any to direct. And here are some reasons:

1. the story deals with the excesses of American society in the 1920’s jut before the Wall Street Crash and the division of the haves and the have-nots. Something that has been in the spotlight in a big way in recent years what with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the financial crisis and the corruption unearthed when the Hedge Funds collapsed.

2. The fast living and hard partying lifestyles of the monied Long Island Set mirrors today’s celebrities, playboys and tycoons.

3. Who better to bring a modern twist to a classic novel while staying faithful to the original text? According to a certain English teacher I know, this film stays about 85-90% faithful to the novel. (I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never read it, though I didn’t find this a problem.)

As with any Baz Luhrmann film the brightness of the colours put on the screen here are off the scale, it’s very primary and vibrant and the camera is constantly moving around, sometimes at breakneck speed. In fact sometimes the camera zoomed right from the inside of the city to the leafy suburbs and back again! Sometimes I felt this was unnecessary, especially in the scenes when the characters are driving to and from the city. Luhrmann has defended this by saying that in the context of the times these cars are travelling at speeds that people weren’t used to and so it would have felt more accelerated. Which is a good save!

The soundtrack is something that seems to have divided opinion, it is a blend of modern RnB, rap and pop mixed with 1920’s style jazz standards. I found that the styles worked very well together and it didn’t pose a problem to me, in fact I liked the re-workings of songs like ‘Back To Black’ and ‘Young And Beautiful’, the latter of which was used really well in one particular scene towards the end of the film in which the Lana Del Ray version was used.

I’m not sure it’s going to have mass appeal at the box office and, if you’re thinking of seeing it as a revision guide for an exam you’re sitting, take it with a pinch of salt. The film opens with the narrator, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), in some sort of mental hospital being treated for “morbid alcoholism”, which is not in the book at all. Also, Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance of the mysterious Jay Gatsby lacks the longing and sadness that the character feels after longing after Carey Mulligan’s character, Daisey Buchanan, for 5 years. Also there is a revelation about Gatsby halfway through the film which comes at the end of the book, and would have made more impact having been left to the end of the film.

This said, DiCaprio, Maguire and Mulligan give great performances which are emphasised by the costume design, set design and hairstyles which really do evoke the period, even if sometimes they are a bit more garish than you would expect.

It’s probably not the definitive film version of The Great Gatsby, but it certainly is an entertaining, visually arresting affair that didn’t feel overly long and stuck fairly close to the source material.


3 Responses to “Review: The Great Gatsby”

  1. I’m sure it will serve as a useful visual resource for A Level English Lit teachers up and down the country. You’re definitely right about Redford, though – DiCaprio seemed slightly plasticised and impenetrable, where Redford openly exposed the inner pain of the protagonist. Will definitely be buying this when it comes out!

  2. Nice review. It’s serviceable entertainment that’s nice to look at, but if you want anything more than just that; you might be a bit lost.

    • Thank you, I agree, Baz Luhrmann is all about the surface, but not a lot else. I enjoyed it having never read the novel. But some of the scenes did thunder along a little fast to be able to take in everything that was happening in the foreground, let alone the well designed background.

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