Baz Luhrman’s glittering retelling of Fitzgerald’s classic was quite possibly the most anticipated films of this year. The trailers were all filled with the images ostentatious parties and the glamour of the 1920’s that anyone who has passed through a high school English class will recall from what is considered to be one of the great American novels. Although I will say that the film holds up as an adaptation, I still left feeling fairly disappointed.
Let me start off by saying that I don’t personally enjoy Leonardo DiCaprio as an actor. Something about him just doesn’t sit right with me. So, as soon as I heard he would be portraying the infamous J. Gatsby, I was immediately disappointed. I resolved to see the film regardless, even when negative reviews started piling in. After having read some of the reviews of the film, both positive and negative, I have found that I agree with aspects of both. My hesitations about the cast, however, are still what I think may be the greatest hinderances to the entire film.
Baz Luhrman, who won my heart with Moulin Rouge, has proven in the past that he has a taste for tragic love stories and lavish opulence. Notes of Lana Del Ray’s “Young and Beautiful” hung in the air during every calm moment while Jay-Z filled every loud, rambunctious one. Subtle motifs and symbols of the novel were made obvious and almost silly throughout Luhrman’s heavy-handed retelling, therefore losing most of their importance. My core frustration with the film was the choice in casting Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. Who was in charge of this? Tobey Maguire’s complete lack of believability and awkward facial expressions distracted from what could have been high points of film, namely, every scene he was in. Joel Edgerton, in contrast, felt the most believable as Tom Buchanan.
Despite this, the film really is a visual masterpiece. I didn’t see it in 3D, yet I could tell that the effects in 3D must have been amazing. (Or maybe overdone? Let me know!) Luhrman’s use of beautiful landscaping and greenery of the daylight hours magnificently contrasted the glitz and glamour of the parties at night. This beauty, along with the soundtrack, and ending montage of scenes showing what was once great and is now lost seem to be some key aspects of Baz Luhrman’s style and are present in this work as well.
Despite the visual and auditory splendor, the cast and the writing left a lot to be desired. I would recommend one to see Gatsby, if for no other reason than to bask in the beauty of Luhrman’s 1920’s New York. Getting your hopes up on anything past the cinematography, would not be something I would suggest.
My rating: 3/5
Pros: beautiful cinematography, soundtrack, Elizabeth Debicki, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton
Cons: Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, heavy-handed storytelling, sweeping shots that felt like The Sims, 2.5 hours felt way too long