"The Great Gatsby" (2013)

The Great Gatsby (2013)
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Running time: 142 minutes

So I said to my girlfriend as we were walking to the cinema: “I have heard much praise for the novel [The Great Gatsby], with many heralding it as one of the best novels to have ever been written. So I must say that I had better have my mind blown by the narrative of this film, lest all those praising people simply be complimenting a classic novel on the grounds that it is a classic novel!”

OK, so that was a much more eloquent rephrasing of what I actually said, but I said something to that effect! Sadly, my mind remained intact by the end of The Great Gatsby but I would not say that that made it a bad film. If I hated every movie that failed to blow my mind then I would not like very many films! Let’s just say I would call Gatsby “alright”, rather than “great”. The title is a little over-zealous!

Now Showing this week is The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Luhrmann and based upon the novel of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gatsby tells the tale of Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire), an aspiring writer turned Wall Street worker who lives in a tiny cottage neighbouring a huge mansion owned by the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Gatsby has shown an interest in Carraway’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and he has asked Carraway to assist him in meeting her. But Carraway is curious as to who Gatsby really is and what his intentions are; all the while dealing with the incredible lifestyle of uptown New York in the 1920’s.

If I had to choose a particular aspect about Gatsby that would be the cause of my not being blown away by the story-line, it would be that none of the twists in the story were very good. I don’t mean to say that they were predictable or silly, quite the opposite in fact, but at almost every major twist in the story I had a reaction akin to: “oh, that’s it? Really?” I found this particularly frustrating in relation to Gatsby himself. A large portion of the tension in the film is based upon wondering just who this Gatsby guy is, where he came from and how he made all his money. Of course it will come as no surprise to anyone who has read the book, but as someone who has not, I expected this particular twist to be shocking or to at least impact, in some way, on my perception of the character. But all that stirred in my brain was “oh, that’s it?”

Furthermore, I occasionally felt that the story contradicted itself, particularly when it came to everyone’s initial clueless-ness of Gatsby. At the beginning, everyone says they’ve never seen him, have no idea what he looks like or who he is, they merely just enjoy the huge parties that go on in his mansion. But later in the film it is established that when Jay Gatsby arrived in New York he was constantly front page news, with photos and everything! Also, in the mansion that everyone is partying in, there are photo frames of him all over the place! This is a minor grievance I admit, but for the continuity of the film’s world it just didn’t work.

Speaking of the film’s world, Gatsby has garnered much criticism over the use of modern music (examples, work from “Jay Z”, “Kanye West”, “Beyonce” etc) rather than 1920’s music in the party scenes. Many argue that it just does not suit the classic source material from which the film is based; but I find myself a little on the fence about the music choices. I loved this approached thematically; it was interesting to see all these young people, decked out in full 1920’s attire, drinking and dancing to the music of today’s youth as it made me realise that while music tastes have changed, the behaviour and vices of young people have not. Using modern music was a very interesting way to bridge the generations in this manner. However, I felt these music choices did not suit the film in a continuity sense for the world of the film. The modern music was mostly diegetic, with the performers singing Jay Z songs and the music being heard muted in other rooms of the parties. So in the context of the film’s world, “Bang Bang” by “will.i.am” was written sometime in the 1920’s. I know that this is something Baz Luhrmann likes to do, but most of his other films don’t take place within established periods in history, with no reference to historical events that are crucial to the story. I did however enjoy the idea that perhaps The Great Gatsby takes place within a different reality where these songs were created many decades earlier than they originally were!

A huge positive for the film is that the acting is top notch. I found Mulligan’s Daisy to be a little overly airy sometimes in a very melodramatic kind of way, but her character is very layered and powerful. DiCaprio’s Gatsby is very charismatic and complex, lending excellently to his mysterious nature. The only complaints I would have about him was that his constant use of the phrase “old sport” (believe me, he says it A LOT) often felt forced and unnatural. Maguire as Carraway was an endearing narrator, I often enjoy seeing him in a role other than Peter Parker/Spiderman as it reaffirms for me that he isn’t a one trick pony. But the highlight of the acting for me was Joel Edgerton as Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan. I barely recognised Edgerton as he played the sleazy, hot tempered, self centred jerk Buchanan; all the while with a flawless accent that was not only convincing but could convey such emotional range. Everyone may be talking about Gatsby, but I feel Buchanan should get the most credit.

The Great Gatsby was by no means a bad film. I enjoyed watching it, with it’s interesting characters and bright spectacle. My girlfriend, a fan of the original novel, thoroughly enjoyed it as a new adaptation of the classic work; which tells me that providing one has an open mind, the film does not alienate original fans. I just expected more from such a highly regarded story. But then again, it is a highly regarded old story so perhaps the many clever aspects of it have been used often in more recent works that I really enjoyed and seeing the story now makes it seem cliched or unoriginal. If that’s true, then I suppose I can’t be too hard on Gatsby, but I still won’t call it “great”!

See you next time!

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