The Good: By Joe Holley
There’s a reason Gatsby has become arguably the most iconic American tale of the last hundred years, and Baz Luhrmann has shown just how remarkably well the themes of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most acclaimed novel still resonate in modern times. Luhrmann’s adaptation captures what is the story’s most essential element: the riotous, hysterical extravagance of an era. An especially strong turn from Leonardo DiCaprio as the idealistic Jay Gatsby underpins a refreshing take on a timeless classic.
Luhrmann’s directing was by no means perfect, but he takes some ambitious risks that added a fresh flavor to what might have otherwise been a stuffy meat-and-potatoes adaptation. I’ll admit to mixed feelings on some of the CGI included in the film (there’s no real reason to put text from the book on the screen as it’s being read), but visually Luhrmann highlighted the fast paced lifestyle of West Egg. Although many critics thought Luhrmann was “too present” in the movie, I found the new style refreshing and poignant. The soundtrack, which included original music by Jay-Z, brought a new edge to what some might consider a rather tired tale.
Performances overall were top notch. DiCaprio’s Gatsby managed to create the mixed sense of empathy and disconnection that makes his character so unique. Though it probably won’t win him the Oscar he so craves, DiCaprio is to be commended for his work here. Toby Maguire also played one of the best performances of his career, as narrator Nick Carraway. Maguire’s Carraway is just the right amount of whiny and idealistic to make him mesh with Gatsby, though at times his narration leaves something to be desired. Carey Mulligan plays a delightfully foolish Daisy, and Joel Edgerton’s turn as Tom Buchanan was spot on. Casting for Gatsby can’t be faulted.
The film stays remarkably true to the novel, including all the major symbols and even using much of the novel’s exact wording. Doing so demonstrates Luhrmann’s respect for the novel, and Fitzgerald’s classic story. The unique visual style, coupled with some very strong performances, make Gatsby a must-watch for this year.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Eh, let’s just skip right to the Ugly, because there isn’t much else here: By Gabriel Vogel
To put it simply, I detest this movie. While I can agree with you that The Great Gatsby is a remarkable and essentially american tale, there is simply no world in which I can agree that Baz Luhrmann’s direction does anything but obstruct that greatness. I guess I can agree that he marks the film his own particular sense of “style”, but I have trouble calling that “style” anything but a blight on an otherwise compelling work. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that everything in the film that Luhrmann adds greatly reduces it’s effectiveness. Luhrmann tries to establish a sense of absurd excess in the film by giving us sweeping CGI shots of everything and playing Kanye West, but instead his attempt comes off as fake and obnoxious. He throws his patently annoying style in our faces every other minute and ends up just obstructing everything that made the original novel great. In fact, the only bearable moments of the film were when Luhrmann just let the actors deliver the story unperturbed.
Now some of the problems here are less Luhrmann’s fault and more just problems that come with adapting something like Gatsby. For example, his handling of Nick Carraway. the Nick Carraway of the novel is a simple character just content to watch for the most part, but as we go through the book we gain a sort of connection to him and begin to see him as a real character through his constant narration. He’s the singular lens through which we see the content of the novel. We hear what he sees and what he thinks and therefore we see who he is. Luhrmann attempts to capture this characterization by giving Nick’s narration throughout the film, but this only serves as a pale imitation of what we receive throughout the novel. Film is just not the kind of medium were we can effectively build a character through techniques like that. Unfortunately, he never realized that and tried to emulating Nick instead of adapting Nick, and in turn we ended up with a piece of cardboard instead of a character.
While Luhrmann certainly botches his adaptation quite thoroughly, even he’s unable to completely destroy every compelling aspect of this great American novel. Blessedly, every now and then the source material shines through the muck of shit that some people call style and we’re able to see a glimpse of something interesting, but it simply isn’t enough to make this film worth even a second of your time. Please, if you feel like revisiting the story or visiting it for the first time just read the book. It’s fantastic, and if you’re really jonesing for a film adaptation than just watch this trailer instead (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2N1f0z5zwA&feature=youtu.be). You’re welcome.
Rating: 2 out of 5