I feel like Baz Luhrman has the potential to be an amazing film maker. He has a strong and distinct artistic and aesthetic voice, he can get Oscar calibre performances out of the actors cast in his his films and his films are often entertaining (except for Australia, which was boring).
Luckily The Great Gatsby is one of the entertaining ones, but as with his Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge I came away thinking “that was pretty fun!” But feeling like something was missing.
First things first, if you haven’t seen this movie in 3D then you should see it in 3D. I’m not usually so big on 3D –I don’t hate it like many do either– but it’s incredibly effective in Gatsby and as with few other films shows that when its used appropriately it can definitely enhance the viewing experience.
Second things second, everyone is good in this but top marks have to again go to Leonardo DiCaprio. Gatsby is a complicated character, through the course of the novel it’s left ambiguous whether he’s a noble romantic hero or just a fool obsessed with the past and DiCaprio captures the larger than life public persona and the damaged private persona amazingly.
Toby Maguire is actually very watchable as the protagonist Nick Carraway. The character is the archetypal passive observer but Maguire actually gives him some personality which is welcome as in the novel Carraway basically just has dreamy eyes for Gatsby.
Carey Mulligan is Daisy, the object of Gatsbys affections. She’s lovely but she. Doesn’t do. Much beyond stare at men all doe eyed. In the few scenes that require her to act though, she’s stunning. Mulligan is a hell of an actress and I wish she had more scenes that required her to do so.
Joel Edgerton stands out as Tom Buchannan as well, and with the exception of DiCaprio is basically the only person in this whose performance (and therefor character) is consistently alive and engaging.
You’ll notice though that I’ve mentioned the novel and not the movie though and that’s purposeful. The novel is rife with ambiguity and complexity which is mostly absent in his film. I mentioned that DiCaprio portrayed both sides Gatsby brilliantly but if it weren’t for his performance I’m reasonably sure we wouldn’t have any ambiguity at all as Lurhmanns vision seems to have all the characters idolizing Gatsby as the romantic hero that Carraway, and Gatsby himself, see him as.
Further, there’s lots of places to go with Daisys character that are never explored. What’s it like being the object of someone’s unrealistic expectations? Why isn’t there more drama over the fact that as much as she’s infatuated with Gatsby, she really does fit into Toms world better?
And that is pretty much the problem right there. Many times in the movie Lurhmann relies on Nicks narration rather than just showing us what’s going on. Case in point is the reunion between Gatsby and Daisy, the lead up to which is amazing, but just when it should get good Nick leaves and we go with him while he tells us what’s going on in voice over.
The few times where we re shown something it doesn’t really work either, as with at the very start where we learn that Nick is writing while he’s staying at a sanitarium, suffering from anxiety, depression and crippling alcoholism; facts that hint at if not outright give away the fact that this story works out for basically no one.
Regardless of all this the movie is still good and I recommend you see it if you can. Is gorgeous and Leonardo DiCaprio should probably be nominated for an Oscar for his performance. The 3D cinematography is stunning and even the copious amounts of background CG work in the context of the film, and better yet they reign in Lurhmann’s usual spastic style of editing. This was one of my most anticipated films of the year and I’m happy to include it in the “turned out good” list.
Just don’t expect the same level of depth you would from the book and you’ll be fine.