"“A good story with fascinating characters set in the exotic past, so really, what’s not to love?”"
Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is truly a tour de force, and to all the haters out there – ease up because the film is not only enjoyable, but also a valid interpretation of the book. For those of you unfamiliar with the tale, The Great Gatsby tells of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) as seen through the eyes of budding bond salesman, Nick Carraway (Toby Maquire), as the two become swept up by the drama, chaos and carelessness of New York City’s young money.
The novel holds a certain complexity and depth which is lost not only through the medium of film but also, to a certain extent, through Luhrmann’s lavish and exaggerated approach. It is one of the pitfalls of his particular style and subsequent depiction of the book. However, it’s not fair to expect the same nuanced profundity of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original text, and the glamour and extravagance as emphasized by Luhrmann is a reflection of the book, which makes the film all the more fun and exciting to watch. The wealth and excess is key to story, especially in its contrast to the raw ugliness of some of its central characters.
DiCaprio plays a character shrouded in mystery, putting on a façade for the vast majority of the film. However, his more exposed moments are wonderfully believable, done with an intensity and vulnerability that brings home the innocence of our anti-hero’s character. Maquire is well cast as the unassuming Nick Carraway, coming across as an “average Joe” lost in the bustle of the big city and the politics of Long Island. Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke and Elizabeth Debicki also deliver notable performances. The cast is certainly one of the film’s greatest strengths.
The question remains, however, how does the film stand up to the book? While arguably more importantly, is it better to have read the novel before seeing the film or to go in “blind”? For those of you who haven’t read the book, fear not. To Luhrmann’s credit, the film is remarkably faithful to the book, but is clear and fast paced enough that you won’t be lost or lose interest. In addition, the book is often quoted verbatim, much to the enjoyment of fans of the original. Fitzgerald’s style remains timeless and eloquent and no one could quite capture the spirit of the book quite as well as the words of the author himself. Thus this commitment to the text ensures the film remains true to the story as well as the succinct development of the characters. In some respects, having read the book enables the audience to “fill in the gaps”; when the film fails to reach the emotional depths of the book, you’re able to independently understand more fully the complexity of these moments, making them all the more powerful. However, it does indeed make you more acutely aware of the film’s failings. So the choice is yours – either way, the film is still good fun.
The bottom line is that The Great Gatsby is such a good story with fascinating characters set in the exotic past, so really, what’s not to love? Luhrmann’s film, although muffles some of the raw emotion of original text, captures the book’s essence and thus proves to be an interesting and effective interpretation of Fitzgerald’s legendary work. Furthermore, the film is quite simply stunning, with its bright flashes of colour brought to life by Jay Z’s soundtrack. The 3D option, although neither adding nor detracting from the film itself, seems to fit in with the general over-the-top experience emblematic of Luhrmann’s approach to film making.
So, in order to get the most out of the film, you have to go in expecting to have a bit of fun. Sure, it’s not perfect but transforming such a famous, groundbreaking work into film was never going to be. It is, however, an exciting contribution to cinema, one that will hopefully pave the way for further ambitious projects.