The Great Gatsby


This was always going to be a tough order as F.Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece is treated with a reverence amongst its many fans worthy of the Holy Grail. It is indeed a pivotal work making various comments on a society wrapped up in idealism, decadence, social standing and background all wrapped up in nuance and subtlety creating a work which although set firmly in the Jazz age is still as relevant- perhaps even more so- today.

Unfortunately subtlety and nuance are not two commodities Baz Luhrmann seems overly acquainted with –think Moulin Rouge  and Romeo and Juliet– and whilst he doesn’t exactly take a sledgehammer to Fitzgerald’s text he does somehow manage to turn the great work into an over extended pop video complete with visual and musical pyrotechnics. Quite literally, on more than one occasion.

 With the prerequisite big name cast; Leonardo Di Caprio as the elusive Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as the desirous Daisy heading, with Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton and Isla Fisher among the notable supporting cast. DiCaprio was an admirable choice for this role and perhaps a logical one and Mulligan looks effortlessly intriguing, serene and distant but it feels on occasion if she is sleepwalking her way through the role. The actors are all secondary to Luhrmann’s vision anyway and trying to compete with his over the top camp ethos would have been pointless as any performance would be cast adrift in the swirling and raging sea of impressive tactics intended to bombard the ear and eye of the viewer.

 The tale is recited through flashback by means of Daisy’s cousin Nick Carraway- Maguire- who, now a recovering alcoholic, attempts to explain the events which have brought him to this state. He recalls a summer in New York and Long Island where as Gatsby’s neighbour he plays an active role in bringing together Gatsby and Daisy in an affair which rocks both their worlds. The affair is doomed from the start as Daisy’s society husband Tom Buchanan- Edgerton- is not a man who is used to being either usurped or taking second prizes and especially not from the likes of ‘Mr. Nothing from Nowhere’ as he refers to Gatsby. The confrontation leads to a tragedy however and this is when the societal rules and status come into play as Gatsby’s lack of a background are unable to save him whilst Tom and Daisy’s elite echelons close ranks and conspire to protect them from any fall out or scandal.

 All this is played out against sumptuous backgrounds, a Craig Armstrong and JayZ soundtrack- unfamiliar renditions of familiar songs will both please and irritate (what exactly is that tune again? will nag away at your subconscious frequently)- and amazing outfits and accessories from  the house of Prada which will constantly amaze and impress but I can’t help feeling that the whole enterprise is as soulless as the society it sets out to depict and critique.

 All in all like Gatsby himself the whole film is bluster and front but with little depth. It is a shiny and new version of a morality tale wrapped up in quick fire assault for an audience who really doesn’t want to think too much about what the author is saying.

 It is an extremely well made film though and an enjoyable one- I must admit I was swept away by the sheer spectacle of the thing several times- but as a treatment of a literary heavyweight classic it fails quite spectacularly. Perhaps Luhrman realised this himself as at the films denouement he obviously realises the message of the books closing lines is of extreme importance and so writes them out on the screen in an impressive use of calligraphy just to drive it home. It is however, for fans of Fitzgerald’s novel, too little too late.

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