Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan
Genre: Drama/Romance/Typical Baz Lurhmann Migraine-inducing-style-over-substance-rubbish
Set in the backdrop of the roaring twenties, The Great Gatsby is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway (Maguire). He moves to upstate New York opposite his old friend Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan) and next to the elusive and outrageously wealthy Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio). Gatsby plays host to lavish parties in which anyone who is anyone goes to. Carraway is invited to one of these parties and so becomes a part of this decadent, excessive and turbulent lifestyle of his neighbours. However the main reason for Gatsby befriending Carraway is that he wants to rekindle his past romance with the love of his life, Daisy. Due to the underlying feeling of impending tragedy and doom, Carraway soon discovers that these excesses and countless wealth cannot buy everything and come at a price.
I personally have never read the novel so my perspective may be slightly different to those that have read it. However if a film works it should tell a good story well and get its messages across perfectly well on its own. Indeed I am not a great believer in comparing the book and film. They are two completely different mediums and in many cases the film may well be simply an interpretation of a part of the book or part of the books message. I have heard many of the inevitable criticisms from those that have read the book and these may well be justified. However, I found that Baz Luhrmann’s film got its (admittedly simple) messages across very effectively but is unfortunately just plain boring overall. At 143 minutes and being a Baz Luhrmann film this truly was hard work and an example of style over substance. I am sure the book is held in high regard for a good reason and therefore Baz Luhrmann’s ‘interpretation’ is a bit of a failure. However I can only review the film on its own ‘merits’, and well I am afraid it has very few of those.
Despite everything looking a little plastic and fake (maybe that is actually the point?) I found he did capture the ultimate decade of decadence well enough. The properties they live in, the parties they throw and the lives they lead are a perfect example of living in a bubble that will inevitably burst. In theory this decade and this director should be a match made in heaven. Complete with overproduction, colourful visuals and contemporary music the parties are a complete visual brain haemorrhage but do kind of work. There is a genuine feeling of doomed over indulgence with very little care for the future but it all becomes a little repetitive. The driving scenes themselves are not for the faint hearted, delivered in such a fast and frantic way that it is just dizzying to watch. This may be representative of the frantic pace of their lives (or maybe I am over analysing) but these scenes are so hard to watch. As for the constant camera swooping through New York; Baz Luhrmann appears to have never heard of a dissolve or a fade. I found this whole style actually more alienating than involving. The whole symbol of the light is more than a little overdone and truly rammed down our throats, what ever happened to subtle metaphors? Oh yes of course, this is a Baz Luhrmann film!
In between the scenes of parties is the supposed ‘substance’. I just could not help find these scenes overlong, boring and filled with characters I just did not like. As Nick Carraway, our narrator, Tobey Maguire is ok; it is easy to understand why he would be naively swept up in all this carnage and decadence but of course the story appears to not really be about him. This leads to the fact that we have to listen to him feel like an inconvenience. Though he should be our eyes and ears he just becomes annoying. The fact he is narrating the story from a mental home suggests the events have had a more severe effect on his mental state then is ever suggested when the story is actually occurring. It was also hard to share his unbreakable compassion for Gatsby. DiCaprio gives a suitably charismatic performance and of course there are genuine and compassionate reasons for his actions but Carraway’s devotion to him is hard to sympathise with at times as well as being infuriating. Though admittedly DiCaprio and Maguire do appear to share some on screen chemistry making for a compelling, if slightly one sided bromance. Gatsby’s entrance is outrageously dramatic and does work though probably more because I found it funny. Mulligan seems out of her depth and struggles with her role making it hard to understand why so many of the characters are in love with her or indeed want to be in the same room as her. However Joel Edgerton as her husband Tom is suitably macho and bullish.
Ultimately I just do not think this was a good enough story to justify becoming a 143 minute film. I of course cannot comment on the book but the story presented within the narrative here has very little. The Dickensian developments that make up the final third of the film that also involve Isla Fisher (playing herself) and Jason Clarke (reliably excellent) just feel contrived. There is also a supposedly pivotal scene in a hotel room towards the end, but what should be an intense scene just feels incredibly flat. If there was desired emotional impact in these scenes here then there was not any at all. I understand that this may be more about a story being there to present a snapshot of living in this world and more universal themes of wealth and emptiness but it is so hard to actually care. When we are having all this excess constantly shoved down our throat I think we got it straight away and do not need 143 minutes Baz! I do actually quite like Baz Lurhmann films (I have not seen Australia) as they are good fun, but perhaps in attempting to present a serious story his tacky visuals undermine this.
I have read a lot of people having a go at those that have read the book and claiming these people are being pretentious by saying the film is rubbish compared to the book. Well I have never read the book and actually know very little about it, but I thought the film was overall a disappointment and quite simply not very good.
The Great Gatsby is overlong, uninspiring and alienating. Baz Lurhmann visual trademarks hit and miss to create a laborious film that is too much style and nowhere near enough substance.
Good review Burford. It’s got plenty of style to boot, but it doesn’t really do much with it, other than try and distract you from what’s a pretty weak story that can’t go anywhere. Should have just stayed on paper.
I could not agree more, you have basically summed it up perfectly there.
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