Culture: Film

Beige Review: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrman’s highly anticipated film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic, The Great Gatsby, finally arrives after opening this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Originally slated for a release last Christmas, it was pulled so it can be tinkered with. Maybe someone should have stopped him because this is a film that suffers from excess. It is most certainly a case of style over substance and it weighs the film down massively.

Advised by a doctor treating him for alcoholism to write about why he started drinking, aspiring writer and wannabe broker Nick Carraway starts to tell the story of the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, a man whose life is legendary and who owns the big house next to his on the banks of a lake outside New York in the 20s. Holding party after party for the rich, famous and glamorous, Gatsby’s life is incredibly secretive, but he does long for one thing – the love of a woman he lost years before, Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan, who is married to the unfaithful businessman, Tom. When Nick invites Daisy for tea so Jay can meet her again, the sparks fly and soon Jay insists that she leaves her husband. Tragedy, however, is just around the corner.

Luhrmann’s method has always been to throw every visual trick in the book at the screen to see what sticks. He is as visual as he is an auditor. This is perfectly fine for a film like Moulin Rouge, which demands colour and spectacle. A story like Gatsby, however, which is more about character and situation needs to be handled with a lighter touch and Luhrmann really isn’t the man. The palate of colour is impressive as are the CGI effects, but it just feels wrong for such a famous and highly respected novel. It’s as if he has no confidence in the source material.

So we are zoomed in and out of various locations, from the overcrowded streets of New York, to the crammed parties that Gatsby throws. The editing is so fast and so dazzling that you almost risk a headache as you try to follow what is going on. Some of the images are beautifully shot, but you aren’t given time to fully appreciate them and adding to this visceral explosion is the 3D, which frankly starts off fine but soon becomes pointless as you don’t really notice it.

Then there’s the music. Luhrmann has always been a man who celebrates using a modern soundtrack to his material. It worked wonders on the ground-breaking Romeo and Juliet but here, supplied by rap superstar, Jay Z, it feels misplaced. It’s as if it has been shoehorned in to make the film seem that much hipper.

With so much visual and audio going on, the performances almost become drowned out. As the narrator and general eyes and ears of the piece Tobey Maguire is perfectly fine but he isn’t given anything to stretch his acting abilities. This is a walk in the park for him and while he’s effective enough, it doesn’t surprise or amaze you. As the husband who cheats on Daisy yet refuses to let her go, Joe Edgerton, who we know is a decent actor from films like Animal Kingdom, gives us a one-dimensional Tom Buchanan and seems badly miscast. Isla Fisher, as Tom’s mistress, is full of energy but isn’t given enough screen time to make a massive impression, while virtual newcomer, Elizabeth Debricki, makes for a very sassy Jordan Baker, Daisy’s friend and gold pro.

As Daisy, Carey Mulligan has the right look for the period – she’s a sweet, pretty thing with big brown eyes, but she fails to excel in the part. It’s merely a passable performance from an actress we know can deliver.

Which leads us to Leonardo DiCaprio. It seems as if Gatsby is the part he was born to play. With his boyish good looks, his screen charisma and charm, he appears to have a much better understanding of the character and the story than anyone. Gatsby is a broken man before the start and DiCaprio captures that brilliantly. He pretends to be happy but underneath he is a man crumbling. DiCaprio has all guns a-blazing and if there was one reason to see this film, he is it. It’s one of his finest performances and manages to lift above the glitz and glitter that Luhrmann dunks every scene in.

I really wanted to like The Great Gatsby. I liked Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet anbd Moulin Rouge, but unfortunately this is heading in the same direction as his film Australia. Yes, there are plenty of effects, snappy shots and quick editing, but this only messes with the pace and you end up with a film that, while flashy, never delivers anything above superficial. Sometimes, all that glitters ain’t gold.

Words: Stuart Wren

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