IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 142 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Nick Carraway is a depressed alcoholic who is visiting his psychiatrist. He talks about a man named Gatsby, describing him as the most hopeful man he had ever met. When he struggles to articulate his thoughts, his doctor suggests writing it all down, since writing is what brings him solace. He writes of how, in the summer of 1922, he moved from the US Midwest to New York, where he took a job as a bond salesman, and rented a house on Long Island next door to the lavish mansion of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire who holds extravagant parties. Nick meets up with his cousin Daisy, her cheating husband Tom, then receives an invitation to Gatsby’s next party, despite the fact that nobody who goes to his parties ever actually gets invited, they just turn up……
It can be said that too many reviews of the latest adaption of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby focus on comparing the film to the book, but I don’t really agree with this. When the book is as well known and lauded as this one is, to the point of some claiming it as ‘the great American novel’, I think a reviewer has to make some comparisons. The Great Gatsby, like many great books, is hard to adapt for the screen for several reasons, the main one being that much of the book’s brilliance is its prose, and that just cannot be transferred to a different medium. Add things like a main character who doesn’t really do anything [something which often works in a book but not in a film] and most of the important events happening off-screen, and you wonder why several attempts to adapt this book have gone ahead, but then its themes of idealism, excess and decadence, not to mention its exposing of capitalism’s flashy veneer to expose its rotten core, are always relevant [probably especially at the moment] and the screen always likes a tragic love story doesn’t it?
Well, Baz Luhrmann and co. have done a pretty job, making it the best version so far, even if in the end, it will always work best on the printed page. Though fans of the novel have been complaining about changes, to be honest they are minor, making this quite a faithful adaptation. Unfortunately Lurhmann also seems to be trying to partially remake his Moulin Rouge, with a story that has surprising parallels, additions that make it even more similar like having the book’s narrator Nick writing down the events we witness as a framing device and Nick meeting some partygoers who are introduced much like the weird group Ewan McGregor hung out with, and many of the same devices like the camera swooping down from high up to a particular place, something which I got really tired of the umpteenth time it was employed. As usual, I didn’t see this in 3D, but there are some really forced and fake-looking shots which I can’t imagine working in any format. The CGI is often very obvious, but the film usually looks great, often resembling a movie from the 1950’s in its hues.
There has been much criticism of the use of rap music in this film, but I think this was done to parallel how jazz, much like rap in our times, was a ‘negro’ music that young white people started embracing much to the chagrin of the older generation who didn’t like its supposed negative moral influence. In any case, there’s not very much of it, and this is just Luhrmann being Luhrmann again, filling his film with a variety of often anachronistic musical styles. You either go with his over-the-top, camp style, or you don’t. I find it quite exhilarating, though I can see how some hate it. Either way, he’s a filmmaker with his own unique way of looking at things. The early parts of The Great Gatsby hurl us into the decadent glamour of the Jazz Age in a dizzying manner, but the film does settle down a bit, and while those not familiar with the book may find the second half rather sluggish, that’s the way it was written, and Luhrmann does his best to speed up certain bits, like staging car rides like frantic chases. Luhrmann has always been a highly ‘romantic’ director, and, as before, he never lets style overshadow heart, even it at times it does overshadow substance. Compare this film to what was previously the best known version, the one from 1975, which was lifeless and cold.
Tobey Maguire’s narration is a little tiresome and overall the device of having his character write the story is clunky, though it means we do get to hear some of Fitzgerald’s great words. Leonardo DiCaprio is pretty much the book’s Gatsby come to life. Some have said that it’s too obvious he is acting: well actually that’s right, considering that the character is a fraud. There’s a fine score by Craig Armstrong that underlies the feeling of melancholy. I’m not sure any film of The Great Gatsby can be a total success as one without some major changes [such as leaving out Nick altogether]. This one gets close, though, and if you don’t know anything about the book, it’s still a highly absorbing drama with energetic direction and some deep themes.