A writer gets sucked into the party scene in New York in the roaring 20s and uncovers the secrets of the mysterious millionaire Gatsby.
Baz Luhrmann, 2013
As a disclaimer, I really strongly dislike the novel The Great Gatsby. I mean, to be fair, I didn’t actually manage to finish it because I couldn’t stand it. The narrative style was confusing and the characters were awful and I just didn’t have any desire to spend more time with them. I do, however, have a special place in my heart for Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet was seminal for my generation back in about year 7) and I’m not going to pass up a free movie at Dendy Premium. So I tried to go in with as unbiased a view as I could manage.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The performances are universally…well, fine, I suppose. Carey Mulligan is gorgeous playing Daisy Buchanan, the waif with a cold centre, in all her period piece glory. Tobey Maguire I’m not a big fan of, but that works just fine as Nick Carraway, the character I like least in the movie (more on this later). Amusingly, I’m fairly certain he and Leo are the only American actors in the whole movie (which was shot in Sydney, which is probably why the Australian media is so obsessed with this movie). As someone who often finds Leo hard to relate to, I actually liked him a lot in this role. It’s one he’s well suited to – it caters to that slightly sleazy but ultimately sweet look that he has these days, and he brings a lot of heart and emotion to the ultimately rather pathetic figure. Everyone else is fine, doing what they do – I particularly liked Isla Fisher’s Myrtle.
Nick Carraway, who is “within and without” the story as the author, is an incredibly frustrating figure to me. He stands by and watches his friends and family tear each other apart without doing a damn thing about it, and I spent a lot of the movie wanting to punch him in the face for just not telling people important things. He’s the only person who sees the kind of man Gatsby really is and instead of helping him (as the guy’s only friend, no less) he stands around and allows him to be manipulated. That said, all the characters in this story are beyond flawed – they’re mostly just unpleasant human beings. That’s the story, though, and the movie did a fine job of capturing these nasty people in their torrid yet seductively extravagant world. Nick isn’t so much enticed as dragged into the party lifestyle, in a series of scenes that are nothing but quick cuts (headache-inducing, dizzying quick cuts) that set the dominoes up before knocking them down.
Visually, this movie is all over the place. The roaring 20s are dazzlingly brought to life, the fashions, dialogue, and New York City of the period lovingly (if not thoroughly accurately) splashed across the screen like so much confetti. I saw it in 2d, and there are some genuinely jarring shots – some where it looks like the actor’s head is floating in front of a matte painting background, others in which Carey Mulligan’s gorgeous face is a completely different colour to what it was in the shot before. It seems to be trying just a little bit hard and falling just that bit short of being one of the Baz greats. The musical choices are nowhere near as inspired as those in, say, Moulin Rouge, in which he also mixed period and modern music. There’s an irritating reliance on narration over showing the story. It’s just…lacking in general, not quite the amazing movie it aspires to be.
The Great Gatsby on IMDb