The Great Gatsby (2013)

Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Written by Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce

My perspective for this film is not unique, I am sure there are plenty of others out there in my same position. For one, I have never so much as touched a copy of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic that has captured the attention of generations of American readers. Now that may sound sacrilege to many hardcore fans, some of my friends included, but I’ve never been a huge reader of the classics. Perhaps I should remedy that in the future, but what it does leave me is a blank slate going into Baz Luhrmann’s latest effort, which affords me the unique opportunity to experience a great story for the very first time, albeit under the direction of somebody with a very unique style and vision in Luhrmann. I would be hard pressed to say Romeo + Juliet is what Shakespeare had in mind, even if it did manage to be a pretty good adaptation.

I did manage one bit of research prior to the screening of the film, and that was treating myself to the ultra modern, yet jazz-era infused soundtrack from such current artists as Jay-Z, Lana Del Ray, and The xx. This exercise really set the stage for what would be a pretty snazzy experience in the theater. Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) couldn’t imagine the snazzy experience he was about to have when he moved to the big city and right next mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who throws lavish parties and keeps company with shady business partners. After befriending the larger-than-life Gatsby, Carraway soon discovers Gatsby has a past with his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who now lives across the bay with her own millionaire husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), who suspects Gatsby of being a fraud and up to no good.

To its credit, and perhaps no surprise, the greatest strength of the film is the spectacle of it all. Luhrmann pulls out all the stops to deliver us a feast for the eyes, providing grand cityscapes and a party so extravagant you might expect it to never quite end. It is this boisterous and stylish fashion that creates a world, a time period in American history that makes the viewer want to live there for at least a day and experience the fun and fancy free atmosphere. The soundtrack oddly matches with Luhrmann’s vision of a modern style of excess paired with an historical era. The film is also featured in 3D, which only serves as the first superfluous fault of the film. I’ve lambasted the technology before, so I will save that discussion for a later time, but suffice it to say that the 3D here may be the most unnecessary example to date. A distraction at best.

Sadly, the faults of the film don’t end there. As the greatest strength of the film is the spectacle, and it does it very well I may add, Luhrmann seems transfixed with focusing in on that aspect of the film, leaving the classic story to almost play second fiddle. The main characters of the story, Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom, get their fair share of the screen, but where the story seems to skim is on the supporting characters. They are introduced, and often implicated with the case of the Wilson’s, George and Myrtle , but then left to have no development or no true moment in the sun. Jordan Baker is a perfect example of an interesting character who never pans out in the story.

Luhrmann also shows an inconsistent hand when handling the many emotions of the story, molding a schizophrenic range of tones throughout the film, and even in the course of individual scenes. It goes from serious fun, to awkwardly playful comedy to dramatic love affair and spends no time transitioning between any of them. Everything just felt a little underdeveloped across the board due to the ambition to create a stylized spectacle of the roaring 20s. DiCaprio and Edgerton deliver good performances, but Mulligan is a bit of a dud as Daisy; and serving as a means of strengthening the glaring under utilization of the supporting characters, Jason Clarke’s George Wilson is great, but only for a brief time.

Luhrmann’s unique vision will win over plenty. Having never read the source material, I cannot comment on the story’s faithfulness to the Fitzgerald tale, but it seemed Luhrmann was set on telling his own story anyway, and in his own personal way of glitz, glam, and style. However, it seemed all of this served to push the real gem, the narrative itself, to the backseat, perhaps even the trunk.

**1/2 – Average

 

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