The long anticipated arrival of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s parody of the American Dream The Great Gatsby is twinged with slight disappointment. It’s a solid effort with great performances and an immersive quality but the whole film seems slightly insubstantial considering that the raw material they were given.
The Great Gatsby tells the impossible story of Jay Gatsby, mysterious millionaire in the Roaring Twenties, who is chasing the love of his life Daisy Buchanan. Narrated by Nick Carraway, we see the story unfold in front of him during the boiling summer of 1922.
Lets start with the ‘Great’; Leonardo Di Caprio is fantastic as Gatsby. He manages to capture a delicate balance of obsession and control, of maturity and child-like glee. Bringing class and substance to an average production, he seems born to play the troubled, mystery man out to win back the heart of his former sweetheart (Carey Mulligan). Mulligan plays Daisy, object of Gatsby’s affection, who is a difficult character to love but who elicits our affections as she is drawn between two strong men who seem to control her completely. Mulligan gives a perfect performance, masking Daisy’s intelligence with a coquettish charm.
However Tobey Maguire as Nick is something of a mistake. Maguire lacks the gravitas to command the role of strong, steady observer Nick; his voice-over of the whole film quickly becomes annoying and distracts from the emotion of what is unfolding on screen. The added conceit of him writing the story from a mental institution seems unnecessary, something which does not occur in the original book, and adds nothing to his personality whilst irritating lovers of the book.
Over all the ‘feel’ of the story is all there, but the frenetic atmosphere of the script and editing dampens the emotions, which feature so prominently in the original story. The first 15 minutes until Gatsby and Daisy meet are a confusing mix of bad CGI and rushed backstories. Once they do finally meet, however, the calibre of the cast becomes apparent. In a stand out scene we see Daisy and Gatsby meet for the first time in 5 years, with a great balance of comedy and raw emotion we see what’s missing from the majority of the film.
So emotion is not where the film excels, but the sheer excess and extravagance of the 20’s is brilliantly replicated in the party scenes, which were where Luhrmann was always going to shine. This is also the only part of the film that would benefit from the 3D treatment (I saw the 2D version). The styling is brilliant and the magnitude of the parties are breath-taking. The imagery is magnificent; the contrast between the West and East Egg and the Ash Piles is stark and brilliantly done. Combined with the bustle of New York and Wall Street the imagery is totally immersive, and magical.
The soundtrack has been much talked about, featuring original songs from the likes of Jay Z and many covers; the soundtrack in itself is brilliant. However when played over people dancing the Charleston the effect is jarring. The modern element to many of the songs, especially those played during the party scenes, break the spell of watching the 20’s and force you to remember that it’s just a film. Although the innovative soundtrack has produced a lot of publicity for the film, it may alienate many more viewers than it draws in. The thoughts behind it are great R&B is this generation’s Jazz, just as experimental, just as new. But unfortunately it just doesn’t sit right playing over the top of a 1920’s love story, especially one so rooted in its time.
The Great Gatsby is firmly placed in a particular time period one of wealth and excess, by trying to update it with CGI and a modern soundtrack Luhrmann has lost something of it’s original charm, and we are left with an insubstantial story and an average film. The Great Gatsby is great for the parties, and some standout scenes, but overall lacking the emotion and reality that should drive a story of undying love.
Written by Charlotte Keeys, who blogs at Jackanory Reviews, follow her on Twitter @jackanoryreview.