The Great Gatsby was a film that I wanted to like more than I eventually did. Being a massive fan of the novel but a less than massive fan of Baz Luhrmann, I decided to disregard my directorial reservations and go in with as neutral a mind as I could. Sadly this attempted neutrality lasted approximately ten minutes, as by the third scene my senses were being assaulted from all directions in the familiar Moulin Rouge! kind of way. I understand that the opulence of Gatsby’s infamous parties is an essential part of the message of the film, but the emptiness and the misguided approach to the American dream that Fitzgerald criticises so well in his writing is almost completely unaddressed in favour of Lurhmann’s tendency to excruciatingly stylise everything to within an inch of its life. This grandeur wouldn’t have bothered me if it had been accompanied and balanced by a degree of subtlety that is present in the novel, but the film moves at the speed of light and is filled with unnecessary zooming and swirling to showcase the use of 3D (an option I did not take up, 2D is fine for me, thank you). The film’s best scenes were those set in relative calm and with minimal shot variations, there were some points at which I was left on the verge of motion sickness by the speed and proximity of fast changing close-ups, something I can remember being a particular annoyance in Lurhmann’s 2008 hot mess Australia. For a man who began in theatre directing, why is he so opposed to a normal medium shot?
The film, however, is not without merit. The juxtaposition of roaring twenties mise-en-scene and contemporary music proved to be one of the picture’s saving graces, and you’ll be hard pushed to find a greater ensemble cast this year. I was happy to be proven wrong when I said that Leonardo DiCaprio was the wrong choice for Gatsby, he gave the perfect mixture of stoicism, mystery and eventual desperation, and it never hurts to have the face of an angel. Tobey Maguire was suitably meek and impressionable as Nick Carraway and Joel Edgerton was suitably robust and irritating as Tom Buchanan, but the stand out performance for me was Carey Mulligan as Daisy. Mulligan’s portrayal was the only one that completely matched the image of Daisy created in my head as I read the novel, and that sort of pleasing synchronicity is extremely rare in the mixed world of film and literature.
So overall The Great Gatsby gets a 2.5 out of 5 from me. A stellar cast and soundtrack make the film worth at least one watch, but with the almost nauseating speed of spectacle and heightened reality at which the thing operates, I can’t imagine I’ll be coming back for more any time soon.