Leonardo DiCaprio’s Smile
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS MAY OCCUR
Baz Luhrmann is loud and frankly that may be an understatement. Every frame of his films are bursting with color and a cacophony that may be deafening. The Great Gatsby is one of the most beloved American classics, a novel of the Roaring Twenties and the faux gilding of happiness it provided. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prose is absolutely gorgeous and there was hesitation as to how the director of the great Moulin Rouge! and the eh Australia was going to handle material as heavy as this. He succeeds… mostly. It seems to be Luhrmann’s greatest effort and it will certainly become his highest grossing. He captures the characters well and brings us the new and amazing Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker. But what he will address occasionally and forget otherwise is the story’s addressing of the American Dream, the Roaring Twenties and how phony all of its exuberance was. There is a stark contrast between how the wealthy and the poor live in New York City, but the film often seems a lot more interested in showing that divide rather than analyzing it. The reliance on Tobey Maguire’s narration is also quite irritating at some times, when you wish that he would try to put some emotion into his voice. The deadpan nature isn’t helpful. The ending narrative device that says that Nick was writing a book as a recovering alcoholic is quite disingenuous and is a hokey narrative device that is completely and utterly unnecessary. The performances otherwise are quite fine. The film is gorgeous to look at and the 3-D effects are not as unnecessary as they had seemed originally. The music here is going to turn a lot of people off, as many have argued that the film’s score should have reflected the jazz of the 1920s. Luhrmann has used modern music and a lot of it works tuned towards the modern audience. It works fine largely but more jazz-themed pieces would have been welcome. The story stays largely close to the book and a lot of Fitzgerald’s most memorable dialogue is available here in all of its beautiful splendor.
Leonardo diCaprio is utterly magnificent as Jay Gatsby and he is the character’s best rendition to date. He has all of the gravitas, the grace, and the splendor that Gatsby had on page. Even though most of the audience wonders why on Earth he would lose his calm over Daisy, he sells it. Tobey Maguire is effective from time to time but he was miscast, there is no getting around that. For most of the film, he tries to mask his lack of emotion with a sort of myseriousness, but it is painfully obvious that there is little to nothing there. Carey Mulligan is effective as Daisy and manages to make a thoroughly unlikeable character somewhat sympathetic. She does the job well. Elizabeth Debicki as the pro golfer Jordan Baker is an absolute delight, often stealing the scenes away from her more seasoned colleagues with seemingly little effort. Isla Fisher has a ton of fun as the tragic Meryl and she relished her debauchery with aplomb. Joel Edgerton is thoroughly despicable as Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan and Amitabh Bachchan in a brief turn as Meyer Wolfsheim is absolutely fantastic.
The film begins with a recovering alcoholic in the form of Nicholas Carroway recounting when he met the mysterious Mr. Gatsby on Long Island. He threw extravagant parties but no one ever saw him. Some believed he was a murderer, some say he fought in World War I, others say he’s a complete and utter fabrication. It is revealed that Gatsby is real and that his real motivation for the parties was the fervent hope that his love Daisy would come by and he would reconnect with her. He succeeds in using Nicholas and Jordan to meet Daisy and is successful in reconnecting with her. Since this is a Luhrmann tragedy, it’s all downhill from there. The plot follows the book very faithfully, but unfortunately does not give a larger piece of the film to the Jordan/Nicholas romance. That’s a shame, maybe he would have given more thought and emotion on the screen. Nor is there enough exploration of Meryl’s life, at least not as much as in the book anyhow. The ending before the “alcoholic” revisitation is beautifully mournful. Then Nicholas scribbling “The Great Gatbsy” kind of ruins it. On paper, the plot is cliched and ludicrous, but Fitzgerald sold it as an author and the film largely manages to sell it here, albeit without the deeper meanings in the book.
The film is absolutely gorgeously shot. Most of the visual effects sink right into the frame around them. The parties at Gatsby’s are the tour de force of ultimate extravagance here, every pixel of the screen bursting out at you. Luhrmann’s direction is unfaltering and his second-best direction ever outside of Moulin Rouge! The production design is phenomenal and I would not surprised at all if the Best Production Design Oscar goes to the Gatsby team. Excellent, excellent work there. The costumes are great, the flappers of the 1920s showcased here in all their glory.
The Great Gatsby is good, but not great. The performances largely work and ultimately are what keep the film from splintering apart at the seams. Luhrmann’s direction is fantastic in most spots, even though it relies too heavily on Maguire’s narration. The music is largely good, the technical aspects are great. And even though the film does not largely address the deeper themes in the novel on social injustice and the faux display of strength through wealth, it at least shows it. It is definitely worth a watch, and then you probably will either love it or hate it.
Title: The Great Gatsby
Producers: Lucy Fisher, Catherine Knapman, Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Douglas Wick
Screenplay: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Based On: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Jack Thompson, Amitabh Bachchan
Music: Craig Armstrong
Cinematography: Simon Duggan
Editing: Matt Villa, Jason Ballantine, Jonathan Redmond
Studios: Village Roadshow Pictures, Bazmark Productions, A&E Television, Red Wagon Entertainment
Distributers: Warner Bros. Pictures, Roadshow Entertainment(Australia & New Zealand)
Running Time: 142 minutes
Release Date: May 1, 2013 (New York City premiere), May 10, 2013 (United States), May 30, 2013 (Australia)
Image Courtesy: Indie Reign, The Hollywood Reporter, New York Daily News, Film INT @NU, TC Daily Planet