Based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, and Tobey Maguire
It’s been a long while since Leo DiCaprio and Baz Luhrmann collaborated on a motion picture together. The last time such an event took place was on another legendary work of literature by the name of Romeo + Juliet. Now, the pairing are back with another adapted classic to embrace the big screen. Question is, does it pack the same skillful craftiness that went into the Shakespeare contemporary adaptation?
The answer to this question is rather complicated. All the major themes represented from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel still exist. Problem is some of the creative decisions Luhrmann makes while executing his vision of the story.
For example, there is absolutely zero reason Jay-Z music should be incorporated in this movie. The film has a classy novel-like setup with amazing cinematography that is suddenly damaged by “H to the izz-O, V to the izz-A.” I was almost scared for a moment that we were going to hear the joyful sounds of “Big Pimpin” play through the speakers. Luckily, this event never took place but it came pretty damn close.
This is basically how the first half hour of the film rolls before it gets better. We have stylish camera work of partying and people pouring champagne on women, while Jay-z backs up the images over the narrative. Kind of like a rap video that takes place during the roaring 20’s. Even the extravagant parties are choreographed like everyone has been rehearsing the whole event before dancing. Also, for some odd reason they made Gatsby’s piano/ organ player Klipspringer look almost like Skrillex, which I found somewhat unusual. Bottom line, most of these creative choices were quite distracting. That is, until Leonardo Dicaprio’s character of Gatsby enters the picture.
Gatsby IS the life of the party and Dicaprio wants his audience fully aware of the fact. All the charisma you can ever expect from Gatsby is on full display. The smile, the charm, and even the slick way he calls someone “old sport” are perfectly delivered from Dicaprio. Everyone knows who he is but he blends in like a ghost in the crowd. Like a shooting star that you catch in the corner of your eye. However, if you read the novel, then you understand it’s not fame that Gatsby is aiming for. The whole grand lifestyle Gatsby is promoting is all part of a master plan. He seeks to reunite with his long lost love Daisy, played by the beautiful Carey Mulligan. The two of them share some great scenes together.
The entire visual aesthetic of the movie is every bit flashy as you would expect from a Baz Luhrmann film. Colors are over emphasized and so are the dance numbers. Some of the Gatsby parties are extremely choreographed to the point that it feels like a Broadway number. If you are used to Baz Luhrmann’s style this should not bother you much. The over abundance of green screen and slow motion will make some folks have flashbacks of 300. In fact, I might argue that this is exactly what a Zack Snyder vision of The Great Gatsby might look like. I’ve heard fellow critics nitpick the style of the film but for me it was far from being the movie’s greatest weakness.
One of the better aspects of Gatsby is the maintained themes from the original novel. All the messages of power, greed, and selfishness are depicted loud and clear through the dark tale. Especially the nature of mankind’s need to embrace greed and use people for their own benefit. I remember this notion sticking with me when I read the novel in school. People have a sick way of floating to those who have money, and the minute it’s gone, they vanish. Gatsby’s journey is a reflection on society’s superficial behavior. When it comes to power and money, people can act as real as the green screen images surrounding Gatsby himself.
However, Tobey Maguire’s role of Nick Carroway provides a balance to the morality of humanity. He’s the one person among the crowd that respects Gatsby and isn’t trying to gain something from their friendship. Sadly though, he’s also being used by everyone in his world, including Gatsby. I’m not a Tobey Maguire fan by any means but I surprisingly enjoyed him here.
The Great Gatsby definitely falls short of becoming a classic adaptation for our generation, but it’s far from being the disaster critics are claiming. The film comes close to losing all credibility with some musical choices that are definitely going to date the movie. Also, it may be too stylish for its own damn good. What works though, is the once again terrific performance from Leonardo DiCaprio as the mysterious Jay Gatsby. Once he enters the film, the movie changes gears entirely making it worth the watch. It won’t kill you to miss the Gatsby experience in theaters, but if you decide otherwise, it won’t be a waste of money either.