Baz Luhrmann is known for his flashy yet faithful adaptations of beloved classic novels, so when he decided to take on The Great Gatsby, one of the most influential books our country has ever seen and turn it into a feature film, expectations were appropriately high.
And, by some miracle, The Great Gatsby is a film that is not only a brilliant portrayal of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s legendary novel, but also a superb movie in its own right. It delivers on everything it promised it would, and thanks to the staggering visuals and all-star cast, will hopefully act as an example of how to properly create a film that is both faithful to its source material and unique enough to stand on its own.
The Great Gatsby is, at its core, a story of tragic romance. The doomed affair between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan lies at the center of the story, and while it’s not always the focus, it is the driving force for most of the film’s proceedings. It’s a raw and emotional roller-coaster from beginning to end that, by some sort of miracle, wholly encapsulates almost everything that made the novel so great.
One of the strongest pillars of this movie, however, is Luhrmann’s staggering aptitude for visuals. The cinematography and editing is truly staggering at times, filling The Great Gatsby with such a keen sense of visual flair and scope that you truly feel like you are a part of this rollicking world known as the Roaring Twenties.
Luhrmann has managed to create a film that not only looks like an exaggerate dream but feels like one as well. Much like Gatsby’s vision for his life, the viewer is transported to a world that is almost too extravagant to be real, and while some of the sweeping shots can be a bit frenetic, it’s all a part of the illusion Gatsby has created for his reality, and it really feels like a vivid snapshot into a world on the verge of collapse.
What truly helps add a sense of validity to the movie is that Luhrmann actually use quotes from the book. It’s a nice, highly appreciated notion that doesn’t come across as trying too hard, but rather, as the perfect blend of Fitzgerald’s iconic dialogue and a more modern take on the some of more old-fashioned speech.
However, were this a film composed of just pretty special effects and unique camera angles, it would be just as empty as Gatsby’s mansion. Thankfully though, The Great Gatsby is not a spectacle only in terms of its visuals, but also in its superb acting. Never before have I seen a cast that so wonderfully captures the essence of their respective characters, and their individual performances are just as grand as you’d expect them to be.
Even the supporting actors, who occupy only a handful of scenes, give it their absolute best and in the case of George and Myrtle Wilson, played by Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher respectively, nearly steal every scene they’re in. However, the real standouts here are the lead actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, and Tobey Maguire.
Joel Edgerton really surprised me here, as his portrayal of the arrogant brute Tom Buchanan is seriously spot-on, and he not only captures the many intricacies of the character, but also imbues him with a sense of subdued aggression that is truly electrifying to watch.
And every time Edgerton and DiCaprio are on-screen together, you better pay attention, as they play off each other shockingly well and deliver some of the best scenes of the movie together.
The same can be said for Leonardo DiCaprio, as the character of Gatsby is so complex, so brilliantly layered that if any actor of a lesser aptitude had been cast as him, the film surely would’ve flunked.
However, DiCaprio nails his role, giving the audience a version of Jay Gatsby that they’ve always wanted. And his delivery of the iconic tagline ‘old sport’ could not be better, and I’m pretty sure I was smiling every time he uttered those two words.
Even Tobey Maguire, who has never really caught me as a great actor, does a fantastic job here, giving the passive narrator Nick Carraway a welcome sense of charisma. His subdued, subtle performance here is part of what helps ground the film when some of the more extravagant personalities are let loose, and even though Luhrmann changes a few aspects of his character, it ends up being for the better in the long run.
However, as much as I love what Luhrmann did with this movie, it’s not quite perfect. The movie moves at a breakneck speed, rushing from scene to scene without giving the viewer any time to catch their breath, meaning that it would be easy to get lost if you didn’t know the story and its progression beforehand.
The many characters and their numerous, branching paths can also get a little hard to follow, even for someone who has read the novel multiple times. And since it runs at almost two-and-a-half hours, it certainly feels a bit long, but thankfully the pacing does a stand-up job of ensuring that you’re never fully bored.
While I can’t say enough how brilliant the entire cast is, I do wish some of the characters were given some added screen time. I love Jordan Baker’s character (who is portrayed wonderfully by the stunning Elizabeth Debicki) in both the novel and the movie, but was a little disappointed her relationship with Nick wasn’t as fleshed out as I would’ve liked it too have been.
And while Carey Mulligan does an admirable job of bringing Daisy to life, her performance isn’t quite as stunning as those of her co-stars, making some moments feel as if she is trying to keep up with the top of the line performances from the likes of DiCaprio and Edgerton. Granted, it is a part of her character, and she does a great job in her own right, it’s just not quite as noteworthy as some of the other cast members.
In its entirety though, The Great Gatsby is a brilliantly executed adaptation of one of America’s defining pieces of literature. It’s not perfect, but by some miracle Luhrmann has managed to create a film that is not only a visual treat (especially in 3D), but an experience all its own.
Thanks to some truly amazing performances and cinematography, both of which are worthy of Oscar nominations, The Great Gatsby has lived up to its hype and is definitely worth your money. If you’re a fan of the book at all, then you really owe it to yourself to check out this movie.