Cinepub


Review: The Great Gatsby by Jamie

Warning: This review may feature spoilers for a book that was first published in 1925 and that you can easily read in an afternoon…

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any film,” he told me, “just remember that all the movies in this world haven’t had the advantages that Jaws had.”

In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has led to the discovery of many curious hidden gems and also made me the victim of not a few films that were best left not viewed by the eyes of anyone.

And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit… I’m sorry, I’ll stop now. The point is that I saw ‘The Great Gatsby’ after reading/listening to the book and watching all four of Baz’s previous films. At the end of all this preparation I came to two conclusions. The first was that I really liked F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 book which is beautifully written and a mesmerizing account of regret, the decay of the American dream and unfulfilled hope and a stunning portrayal of decadently rich youths during the 1920s in America. The second was that for the most part I really like Baz Luhrmann films. There are quibbles here and there and none of them are making it into my top ten but for the most part all four films are entertaining in one way or another. So it was with somewhat raised expectations that I went into the Great Gatsby.

I shall spare you the normal lengthy synopsis because, as I believe I may have mentioned earlier, The Great Gatsby is based on a novel from 1925 which can easily be read in the course of an afternoon. Now the important things. Is it any good? Well, yes and no. As a film it’s certainly the kind of entertaining thing you’d expect from Baz Luhrmann. It’s bright, it’s brash, it’s glitzy and it’s glamorous. It’s a visual feast that’s at times reminiscent of ‘Moulin Rouge’. As an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, however, it’s woefully inadequate. Sure, the major beats of the story are there but that’s all it feels like Luhrmann’s doing, making sure he hit’s the very basic beats of the story without any of the substance. It’s as though he brought in an exorcist that removed the soul from the story.

At it’s very worst, the framework of the novel feels like it’s being used as a means for Luhrmann to get from one elaborate, raucous set-piece to the next. At it’s best you’ll walk away from the film knowing what the story is without really knowing what it’s about.

In the novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald manages to make you feel something for the characters be it revulsion, sympathy or at times a strange mixture of the two which I have dubbed revulpathy. In the film I end up feeling very little for anyone, not that it’s any of the actors fault in particular. They’re all perfectly serviceable with the exception of Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby. To me, Maguire almost seems like he’s just playing his Peter Parker but in 1920s era costume. Somewhere along the line, Maguire seems to have been the go to guy for wide-eyed naivety but to me he always just seems to come of more as something of a gormless buffoon.

DiCaprio, on the other hand, is on the other end of the scale. He does more than a serviceable job. He’s the one bright star in the film in that his portrayal of Gatsby is pretty damn great. Out of the whole thing, his was the character I came closest to caring about though still the nature of the movie left me just short of that.

As for Debicki, well, she’s actually fine it’s just that the character of Jordan seems to be almost completely cut from the story after Gatsby’s first party and any further relationship between her and Nick is barely even hinted at.

The same goes for other characters who have vital scenes in the book such as the Owl-Eyes and Meyer Wolfsheim, both of whom I would argue are vital to the books ending, who are here little more than cameos early on in the movie. Then there’s the case of Henry C. Gatz who is cut altogether. The fact that Luhrmann seems to pay far more attention to the beginning of the book rather than it’s conclusion just seems to add more weight to the accusation that the director cares far more about putting scenes of big, glitzy 1920s era parties, most of which occur in the first half of the book, on film than he does the actual story he’s supposedly adapting.

Then there’s the music. Oh boy. You see, these big, glitzy 1920s era parties all feature music which blends jazz of the time with modern hip-hop and other modern music styles. I can understand what they were going for. I get that you wanted to get across the point that hip-hop today is like jazz was in the 20s. And I liked the use of modern music in Moulin Rouge. It fit there because the 1900s of that film is portrayed as some kind of insane, cartoonish reality, it shows the characters as being really ahead of their time and it just works. This, however, is supposedly an adaptation of The Great Gatsby. It’s jarring. Really jarring and it completely took me out of the film every time. Don’t get me wrong either. For the most part, I really liked the music. It just doesn’t fit.

And so we come to the end the review and what’s left to say? Well, like I said, as a film it’ll keep you entertained and it’s pretty much everything you’ve come to expect from Baz Luhrmann but as an adaptation of such a wonderful book, it’s a miserable failure. There was nothing stopping Luhrmann from making an original film set in the 20s with an anachronistic soundtrack. Hell, he could have made it a spiritual sequel to Moulin Rouge and everyone probably would have been perfectly happy with it. Instead it feels like he wanted to make a film set in the 20s but didn’t want to go to the work of developing a story for it so he took The Great Gatsby and filmed the visually stunning party scenes he’d been dreaming of. Then he realised that shit, he’d probably better try and actually adapt the actual story too and he did so, paying lip service to it and stripping away anything that made said story special in the first place.

As far as I can tell none of the various attempts at adapting the book into a film have been particularly successful with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald themselves famously walking out of the 1926 effort. Maybe a good adaptation will come some day. Maybe not. It eluded us this time, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Two pints out of five. Laterz.

It's The Great Gatsby, Old Sport!

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