Movie Review: ‘The Great Gatsby’
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Cast: Toby Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher
Story: Nick Carraway, a young graduate, moves into a small cottage in Long Island next door to the spectacular mansion of the elusive Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is a millionaire who pours his money into lavish parties with the hope of reuniting with his lost love Daisy, who happens to be Carraway’s cousin.
Review: As Wikipedia so often likes to put it, reviews for The Great Gatsby were mixed. There’s a very good reason why this is the case, and that’s because the quality of the movie is mixed. The performances and design are as good as you’d expect from the performers and crew, but ultimately this material is only partly suited to director Baz Luhrmann’s style.
The Great Gatsby bears more than a striking resemblance to Luhrmann’s mega-hit Moulin Rouge! in tone and style. The framing device of the writer recalling the love of his life (if you assume that Nick is in love with Gatsby) is more than just familiar – the set up of the shots is almost a copy paste job. Plus the whole bearded protagonist using the story to pull themselves out of despair is a lazy way to tell the story through a voice over. Whilst the style of Moulin Rouge! wasn’t to everyones taste there’s no denying the effectiveness of marrying the style to that particular story. It was fast, frantic and reflected the drug fuelled activities of the characters. Applying the same style to The Great Gatsby is not nearly as effective.
For one thing the story is much more slowly paced. It takes a good 20 or 30 minutes before the titular character shows his face, and another solid chunk of time before Gatsby and Daisy have the chance to meet. This wouldn’t be a problem if the director was working with a bit more restraint, but it’s in direct contradiction to Luhrmann’s flashy style. Much of the movie is focused on dialogue, and the camera cuts to twenty different shots over the course of one brief discussion. The expression ‘don’t use seven words when three will suffice’ feels applicable here. Moulin Rouge! got away with this because it featured a musical number every couple scenes, and that kept the pacing up. The only time when the rapid fire editing and bold colour schemes works is during Gatsby’s parties, but as these don’t do anything to progress the story they quickly become repetitive.
The nuanced emotional journeys taken by the characters is also at odds with the style of the movie. In the previous works of the director, such as Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet, emotion exists in broad strokes. The characters meet, it’s true love and they can’t live without each other. Seeing each other is akin to walking on the clouds. The bad guy is jealous and wants revenge. Simple and to the point. The complications in The Great Gatsby, which revolve around Gatsby creating a fairy tale world for is true love but she is torn between her heart and her loyalty to her family seems out of Luhrmann’s reach, having the characters only respond to events by lunging to the extremes of the emotional spectrum. Anything that doesn’t factor into either ‘true love’ or ‘revenge’ gets neatly glossed over, such as Daisy and Tom’s daughter. The performers are all immensely talented but this feels like a wasted opportunity for them to genuinely delve into the roles.
When the movie works, it does work well. Gatsby driving Nick around in his supercharged car is an energetic sequence, and the party scenes are undeniably awesome. They are giant spectacles of noise, colour and people and they look like they’d be fantastic fun to attend. The fantasy part of the movie comes across very, very well, but this is only a slice of a larger and more in depth pie. Design wise the movie is a stand out, with the set designs being especially brilliant.
The performers are also excellent, with DiCaprio being perfectly suited to the role and Mulligan continuing to be one of the best actors currently working. He carries the suave and she brings the most talented performance to the table. Maguire and Edgerton are sometimes left pulling faces and mugging but they are well suited to the roles.
This should have been a spectacle of cinema, but instead it’s a plodding and sometimes tiresome exercise of style and glitz spread over a layer of good story, rendering the latter all but wasted. It’s akin to having a rich, delicious cake that someone has dumped a pound of glitter onto. As much as you want to enjoy the cake you’re pre-occupied by having to chew through the mouthfuls of glitter. About 30 minutes of oddball characters and drawn out music/party sequences could’ve been trimmed out for a much tighter movie.
Meh, I’ll just read the book.
FOUR out of TEN