After rescheduling and a huge amount of build up, the literary adaptation of the year hit our cinemas on Thursday. The Great Gatsby is a modern classic that is loved by many across the globe. In the novel we are transported to the roaring 20s, a world of flappers and excess. In the film, Fitzgerald’s jazz age is brought to life. This isn’t the first outing for a film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, having previously hit the big screen three times, but never leaving a lasting impression on our minds. There was only one man that would and could take on Gatsby and that man was Baz Luhrmann.
Tobey Maguire takes on the role of the narrator Nick Carraway, the principal character in many respects. Moving from Chicago, Nick hopes to make it in the booming stock markets where money flows and wealth can be snapped up. Carraway soon gets swept up by the glitz, glamour and drama of his neighbour, the infamous Gatsby. ‘What Gatsby?’ a question that lifts off the lips of Daisy Buchanan, played almost effortlessly in parts by Carrie Mulligan. Daisy is Nick’s cousin who comes from the South and managed to marry in to the old money family of Tom Buchanan, played by Joel Edgerton.
A perfect marriage from the outside but we soon discover all is not well behind closed doors. Myrtle Wilson, portrayed by Isla Fisher, is Tom’s bit on the side and neither of them are happy in their respective marriages. Nick makes friends with the new, old and no money, and finds himself in New York with Tom and Myrtle, where what has now been dubbed the ‘orgy scene’ takes place. This is possibly one of the first moments of discontent within the film. With champagne popping and clothes being stripped off in the blistering heat of the summer of 1922, the scene all seems a bit out of place to the point of too much excess.
The elusive Gatsby is a man we don’t know all that much about who first enters the film lurking in the shadows at one of his own parties. Surrounded by rumours from others and stories created by himself, the one thing we do know is Mr Gatsby sure knows how to throw a party. Played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio, Jay Gatsby is one of the redeeming qualities of the film. DiCaprio plays the character well, ensuring Fitzgerald’s depiction of Gatsby as a love torn, nouveau riche party boy with that fresh charm, and murky back story is brought to life. It must be noted that Fitzgerald’s novel isn’t just about the brilliance of the Jazz Age, it is also about love on a grand scale and the lengths a man will go to in order to be with the woman he loves. Gatsby does just that and the truth behind his fortune, parties and the man himself is slowly revealed in a heavily, stylised and glamorous way.
While DiCaprio ticks all of the boxes for Gatsby, Maguire’s performance seems a little odd. The character of Nick becomes an intruder on the affairs he witnesses, as opposed to a harmless observer. He is neither on the inside or the outside. Possibly a poor casting choice, the portrayal of Nick just falls short of what was expected. Luhrmann stated he wouldn’t have made the film if Leo hadn’t played Jay Gatsby and this is the best casting choice of the entire film, not necessarily Oscar worthy but you can’t help tasting the want for one. Not forgetting the portrayal of Jordan Baker by Elizabeth Debicki who could do with featuring a little more in the film. Tall, elegant and beautiful, she becomes exactly what you would expect from a flapper in the 20s.
Baz Luhrmann clearly made a statement with this adaptation of The Great Gatsby, and the film clearly has his edge to it. Much like Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet, Luhrmann brings a modern edge to a tale from a glorious and extravagant time. Gatsby asks Nick whether the decorations for tea with Daisy is too much, and the same question can be asked of the film. With the equally simple answer, yes. The visuals and styling go beyond that of the excess you would expect and almost become unrealistic. As for the score to the film, some might say it is a stroke of genius to fuse the jazz age with music from the likes of Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey. When you listen to the soundtrack it seems so. However, when it is overlapped in scenes of the film there are just some moments when it seems a little off key. Though brilliant at times, a little less rap wouldn’t have gone a miss.
In many aspects the film is right on point with the novel it is adapted from, but all too often there are things that don’t seem to fit. The best scenes of the film come from Gatsby’s confrontation with Tom in the plaza hotel and the moment Gatsby ecstatically throws fabric upon fabric at Daisy in a moment that captures their love. There are some brilliant moments, but for me The Great Gatsby just misses out on being great.