The Great Gatsby (2013) – Film Review
by Dan Berlinka
Baz Luhrmann’s highly (and nervously) anticipated interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age classic prompts two questions: Does it work as an adaptation? Does it succeed in its own right?
For me, the answer to the first question is no. This movie is almost the opposite of The Great Gatsby book. The novel’s prose is clear and understated. The film is dizzying and overwrought. The narration is detached and poignant. The voiceover is emotive and sentimental. The book is short – the film is long. And don’t even get me started on some of the more curious omissions – Myrtle’s dog, or the epitaph delivered by the owl-eyed man.
Of course each reader will have their own vision of the novel. Mine may differ from yours, just as Luhrmann’s differs from mine. But unlike his dynamic and exhilarating modern-day Romeo & Juliet, here, the stylistic sizzle simply feels unsubtle and overwhelming without being enlightening. The anachronistic soundtrack (that served Moulin Rouge so well) distracts more than it enhances. It can’t help but sound like a commercial compromise (even though I suspect it wasn’t).
“Visual energy and beauty are undeniable”
But what of that second question? Even if I try to set aside my love and bias towards the novel, the sheer excess (of the camerawork, the art direction, the running time) makes the film too rich to comfortably digest. It dazzles but doesn’t illuminate a narrative that feels swamped by its production values. As for the cast, they’re surrounded by too much visual trickery for us to get much of a chance to really engage with their characterisations. Our first vision of Daisy is surrounded by billowing curtains that border on the ludicrous. But while Di Caprio certainly captures something of the book’s enigmatic centre, the standout performance is probably Joel Edgerton’s boorish Tom Buchanan.
Tobey Maguire is saddled with an unnecessary and frankly corny wrap-around that his Nick Carraway never really recovers from. Carey Mulligan’s Daisy doesn’t quite convey the carelessness of the book’s most devastating line. I realise that I’m back to comparing it with the novel again – it’s just so hard not to.
However, that’s not to say The Great Gatsby is not worth seeing, because although for me it’s ultimately a failure, it’s nonetheless a bold and interesting one. The visual energy and beauty are undeniable (the 3D works very effectively).
If you’re a fan of Luhrmann’s earlier films you may well find that this one delights more than it disappoints… so long as you’re not expecting The Great Gatsby.