Review for The Great Gatsby
Directed by: Baz Lurhmann
Screenplay by: Baz Lurhmann and Craig Pierce
Novel by: F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby is a faithful adaptation that is well-cast and visually beautiful. The 3D works well and the movie captures some of the themes and spirit of the original novel while managing to add at least one layer of extra metaphor along the way. Some story cuts that most won’t miss and a padded running time keep this film from being perfect, but it gets pretty close.
The Great Gatsby follows the narration of Nick Carraway, as he gets caught up in the lives of his cousin, Daisy, her husband, Tom Buchanan, and a mysterious man by the name of Jay Gatsby. When Nick gets an invitation to one of Gatsby’s esteemed parties he meets the man himself and the two begin an unlikely friendship. Nick begins to unravel the rumors and lies surrounding Gatsby, and finds a man who is attempting to win back an old lover. Gatsby’s old lover just so happens to be the aforementioned Daisy. The two begin to reconnect with the help of Nick. Whenever Tom gets wind of the idea that Gatsby may be stealing Daisy from him, he sets out on a personal mission to clear the smoke of mystery from Gatsby and reveal the man for what he really is.
The film version cuts out a lot of the side story from the novel. A brief relationship between Nick and Daisy’s friend Jordan isn’t as fully explored. The entire epilogue is cut out as well, with the film never showing Gatsby’s father or Nick’s confrontation of Gatsby’s business partner. Rather the film focuses on spicing up two areas: Gatsby’s parties and the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy.
Since Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship defines the themes of the story, shifting more focus on this aspect isn’t a bad thing. However, the scenes in this film seem to cast a heroic and righteous light on Gatsby that isn’t entirely implied in the book. Save for one major freak out in the most tense scene, Gatsby is never viewed as anything more than what he claims he is.
However, as I usually feel whenever I see film adaptations of things that I’ve read, I feel that more emotion has been put into the story. The struggles each character goes through is much more vivid and realistic, adding punctuation to the best scenes, and just flat out adding emotion to other scenes.
As far as film adaptations go, I find it difficult to reward a movie for having a great story whenever said story is this celebrated, this classic, and this immortal. If you haven’t ever read, this is a decent adaptation of the book. While some of the manuscript cuts are much missed, I feel this film adds enough emotion to the story to tip this category in its favor.
Base Score – 8/10
Story – +0.1
Score So Far – 8.1/10
Baz Lurhmann is a visual director. I’ve only previously seen Moulin Rogue, but I can easily say that its playful mixture of old setting with pop music, as well as its attention to romantic detail define the director’s character. As such, I had high hopes for what he could do with Gatsby.
It usually turns out when I set my expectations high that they are disappointed, but I was pleasantly denied this feeling.
Lurhmann makes perfect use of 3D. Gatsby’s parties are shot in exquisite sparkling detail. Each area of New York is distinctly its own. Every detail seems to pop out all at once and the Jazz Age is brought to life before your very eyes.
As mentioned before, Luhrmann likes to anachronize his films. Moulin Rogue was a musical set in the early 1900s and frequently had its score sprinkled with new age pop hits. Gatsby is a film that visually uses tropes and trends that are new despite the old setting. Gatsby’s business partner, the way he is dressed and the way his hair is styled all reflect the modern image of the word pimp.
However, some of the party scenes did seem to run too long with a lot of shots that are repeated again and again, making me feel like I am stuck in bad editing purgatory. But there is so much done right here, these minor annoyances really only detract from a better score in this category.
Score so Far: 8.1/10
Filming – +0.4
Score so Far: 8.5/10
This cast is almost perfect.
First off, the big one, yes DiCaprio is a perfect Gatsby. He captures the character in times when he is living off of his own mystery, his nervousness when meeting Daisy again, and his surprising break down whenever his disguise is brutally torn from his fingers
Carey Mulligan plays the gorgeous Daisy. This was a role that could’ve easily gone ary. Daisy as a character in the book is very shallow and obsessed with being appreciated by those around her. Mulligan is a perfect actress for Daisy, able to cast her as a tragic princess and the ice queen beneath. We see her frustrated with her husband, playful with Nick, and loving as well as shut off violently from Gatsby.
Joel Edgerton is an actor I’d never seen before, but after this film I’ll know him any time I see him. He is able to make Tom Buchanon both the hated rich jock that he is and also the desperate man losing everything from under his nose. The scene in which Gatsby and Tom finally confront each other is made magic by the strength of both actors.
Some disappointments: Tobey Maguire as Nick seemed at the time like a wonderful choice. Nick by his nature is a very passive narrator, never truly taking action within the novel, except in the end of the book. Having the end of the book cut out, a lot more scenes and emotions are attempted to be thrown at Nick and under Maguire’s acting all of these come off as cheesy, underdeveloped, or out of character.
Isla Fisher, as awesome and gorgeous as she is, is given maybe three minutes of screen time, so there’s hardly any acting to laud or depreciate. Which is unfortunate because I feel like her talent is being wasted here.
Score so Far: 8.5/10
Acting – +0.5
New Score: 9.0/10
The score in this film adds a complete element into the story that could never be accomplished by the book or any other adaptation. See, there is a primary theme in the book and the novel that Gatsby and Daisy are of two different kinds of class. Certain details of Gatsby’s backstory cast his own wealth and success in different lights compared to what Daisy has and always represented. As such there is a contrast between New Money and Old Money.
Lurhmann casts Gatsby’s parties to the sound of current era hip-hop and rap, bringing on popular artists to make entirely new songs just for this movie. There is a clear comparison being drawn between Jazz Age New York and the portrayed lifestyle of the hip hop genre. The same gluttony and greed is shown as the representation of the Jazz Age, and Gatsby’s parties are like the concerts. Gatsby is a metaphorical rock star, and the music to his parties reflect this.
But furthermore, just by hearing the music you understand that this distinction signifies the gap between Gatsby and the other rich people he becomes involved with.
However, there are two things I know: One, that Baz Lurhmann would’ve probably included this type of score, regardless of whether or not this was Gatsby or Jazz Age New York, and Second, that this score is also featured in a completely Gatsbyless party near the beginning of the movie, and thus, becomes nothing more than an arbitrary decision by the film maker.
Score so Far – 9.0/10
Score – +0.2
New Score – 9.2/10
Gatsby, with its great acting, wonderful visuals, and timeless story is probably one of the most easily enjoyable movies that’s coming out this year.
That being said, its annoying to see films cut out parts from books, especially when they’re short books, and especially whenever the film spends so long padding out the party scenes as if they’re the most important or memorable thing about Gatsby, rather than being mere backdrops.
However, I feel a movie that lowers its own ideals or story simply to keep itself to a “continuity” with any other story or adaptation is automatically shooting itself in the foot.
That being said, I’m not entirely sure that people who didn’t read the book won’t leave the theater wondering what exactly Gatsby’s history was or where exactly he got his money. While the big important parts of the character’s stories were explored, smaller rather important details were still left out.
More frustrating though is that the film is padded. Party scenes drag on for a strangely long time, and one fireworks show seems to interrupt an entirely interesting scene. An early focus on the differences between white and black people during this time period is completely dropped later on, and I’m not sure we see a black face past thirty minutes into the movie. This wouldn’t be a big deal, if there weren’t already a significant focus on it earlier in the film.
However, I was still thrilled by Gatsby. Once the hiccups were done, I wasn’t left with anything but minor disappointements, and honestly, that happens with just about every movie I’ve ever seen.
Score so Far: 9.2/10
Enjoyability – +0.0
Score so Far: 9.2/10
The Great Gatsby is a fantastic film. Nick could’ve been played by someone else, though it would feel a little less like Nick. More scenes from the book could’ve been included as well.
However, for any questions people had about the quality or strength of this adaptation, they were all thrown back at us, and well answered. DiCaprio is a good actor, like it or not. Gatsby can be filmed in 3D and made visually better because of it. And, as much personal chagrin as it creates, you can cast Isla Fisher and only include her for a single digit number of minutes in the film.
Gatsby surpassed my expectations, and that’s always an enjoyable feeling.
Final Score: 9.2/10