Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ is on the scale of things epic. However not epic in its common definition. It is energy charged with everything turned up to 11, loud, explosive, wild with set pieces where the camera sweeps across the East Egg West Egg divide. There are exaggerated driving sequences, over elaborated visual effects painfully annoying product placements. I imagine Moët handed over a substantial sum to have their bottles paraded at every opportunity.
It’s visually stunning and contains all the Luhrmann trademarks. The making of this film must have felt like a Gatsby party in itself. The costume and set designs are magnificent. Every inch of it is polished to perfection. Luhrmann, a Fitzgerald obsessive, captures the essence of the novel with modern additions of music from Jay-Z, Lizzie and my personal favourite ‘Love is Blindness’ from Jack White. These are the markings of Luhrmann’s transition from, what I still deem, the superior 1974 version.
DiCaprio is delivers what seems an identical performance to Robert Redford (1974); the hair included. It’s something I didn’t particularly mind given my awe of Redford’s performance and my favouritism of DiCaprio. Toby Maguire is perhaps the stand out performance in his portrayal of narrator Nick Carraway. Unfortunately the lead women do not have the same impact. They appear to have very little lines from the novel and spend vast amounts of time starring away into some distant world whilst the audience admires their stinking wealth.
The opening sequences of the film were problematic: too many surreal almost magical sweeping shots reminded me of Les Miserables but this time the close ups and constant panning made me feel dizzy. There is much more interest in the film’s style than the substance of the story. The 1974 version is therefore a worthier adaptation. That said the scenes of Gatsby and Daisy rekindling their love are beautifully and hopelessly romantic. The film should have ended the way the novel did instead of running for another couple of unnecessary minutes which is detrimental to the fact it’s just too long. I recognise my comparisons between the novel and the film are to an extent invalid given both are different art forms with 90 years separating the two. I have an attachment to the novel like no other and therefore happily encourage the debate this new adaptation is stirring up. However when so much of the original text is included in the film it’s still a substantial argument to make that this film doesn’t tell the story of Gatsby but rather celebrates it like an over dramatised Broadway show.
Words by Dean Wands