It feels like an age that I have been waiting for this film to come out, and then when it is released it takes three attempts to actually go and see it. My expectations were high as I love the original story told by F. Scott Fitzgerald, as I also love Baz Luhrmann’s work in Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet. Luhrmann’s ‘kaleidoscopic’ style is so perfect for this story and the world Fitzgerald creates around his enigmatic character, I had high hopes for The Great Gatsby.
The story is told by Nick Carraway, a writer who finds himself living next to Jay Gatsby’s fabulous mansion in New York in the 1920′s. Upon receiving a personal invitation to one of Gatsby’s lavish parties – Carraway seeks to find out more about this mysterious man, little does he know that Gatsby already has his eye on him for a favour to do with Carraway’s beautiful cousin Daisy. The story is essentially one of love, lust and romance, but it is intertwined with the fantastical ideals of the American Dream, and one man’s obsessive compulsion to lead a perfect life with his ‘true love’.
The casting of Leonardo DiCaprio for Jay Gatsby is pretty much perfect. He is charming, beautiful and mysterious and for me, plays the character brilliantly. The scene in which we get to meet Gatsby along with Carraway’s first impression gave me goosebumps – DiCaprio’s bewitching smile, the fireworks and the dramatic score was very climactic and probably my favourite part. The attention to detail from the novel is fantastic in DiCaprio’s portrayal of Gatsby, from the way he walks, talks and behaves. Here is an exert from the Introduction of The Great Gatsby novel to illustrate what I mean; “He is a most literal glutton, while Gatsby stands at a curious distance from all he owns and displays, just at times he seems to stand back from his own words and consider them appraisingly, as he would the words of another, just as he will display shirts he has never worn, books he has never read, and extend invitations to swim in the pool he has never used.”
Toby McGuire plays Carraway and I was a little disappointed with this choice as I find him extremely annoying. However, he plays the role well – as Carraway is as much the main story teller, he is also the least involved in the story. He is an on-looker and a tag along through many of the events and this is shown very well in the film. Often looking on as events unfold or shying away from the spotlight, only rarely does Carraway make any impact in a scene. Suffice to say then that McGuire fits the bill. A complete scene stealer though is Carey Mulligan as Daisy. She is sweet and charming with an air of fragility and sadness. Daisy is the source of Gatsby’s infatuations but despite her seemingly care-free romantic side, it is clear she still upholds the female stereotype of following the strongest male and doing as one is told. I still like the character though and her translation from paper to screen is quite beautiful.
Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, is played by Joel Edgerton, who also does a fantastic job bringing the rich brute to life. I would probably have cast some one slightly bigger but Edgerton does bring a certain menacing and quite threatening presence to the character. Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke do a fine job playing Myrtle and George Wilson, but do not get enough screen time for me as they play a large part of the story which may have been over looked slightly. Daisy’s friend Jordan is played by Elizabeth Debicki who I have never seen before but really made an impact in the film. She looked like a giant next to McGuire but still beautiful and elegant. Reminded me of Cate Blanchett in The Aviator.
The style Lurhmann brings to the film is quite a spectacle, very much reminiscent of the ludicrous parties in Moulin Rouge combined with the extravagance of the fancy dress party in Romeo and Juliet. I imagine they would have looked even more spectacular in 3D but they were just as impressive and awe-inspiring in 2D. I wanted to be there, up until the glamorous people go home and we’re left with the sad reality of those too drunk or depressed to leave.
The soundtrack to The Great Gatsby has been raved about since it was first screened and I have to agree it is quite brilliant. It could have used more 20′s influence when mixing up the classic and the modern genres of music but somehow it seemed to work. Less so in the grand parties, but more in the emotional and tense scenes for me. The song that stood out the most were the two versions of Lana Del Ray’s ‘Young and Beautiful’ – the lyrics and drama of the song really captured the moment, mostly when Daisy is introduced to Gatsby’s lavish home. I was looking out for the use of Kanye and Jay-Z from the trailer but it either went by without me noticing or it wasn’t actually used in the film which was a shame.
My only criticism of the film is the sequence leading up to the point where Gatsby and Daisy clap eyes on each other. It is far too much like a comedy sketch which was not in keeping with the rest of the film. Yes in the book Gatsby is very nervous before meeting Daisy and he does stumble on his words and accidentally break a clock on the mantle-piece. However it is meant to be heartbreaking and awkward not funny. Other than the funny slant on it, this sequence is quite close to the book. Mostly down to DiCaprio’s skill. “With his hands still in his coat pockets he stalked by me into the hall, turned sharply as if he were on a wire, and disappeared into the living room. It wasn’t a bit funny.”I thought I was right in being uncomfortable with the humour here! But when the pair do meet, it was a really touching moment and again gave me goosebumps. Luhrmann knows how to tell a good love story that’s for sure.
The film loses its pace a little once Gatsby and Daisy’s affair begins, but it soon picks up again when we focus on Tom and his subsequent actions. The final sequence is very well done from what I remember in the book, and the climactic end is truly quite shocking. The addition of Carraway telling the story through the book he was told to write by a therapist was a nice touch, as it gave them licence to take words straight from the page. I thought this showed sensitivity to the source material and gave the film a well rounded end.