Review: The Great Gatsby (2013)
The Great Gatsby, having recently opened the 66th Cannes Film Festival, sees Leonardo DiCaprio being reunited with Romeo + Juliet (1996) director Baz Luhrmann, for an adaptation of Scott Fitzgerald’s grand 20th century American novel. There have been previous filmed versions; the lost 1926 silent film — only the trailer remains; and production Code approved 1949 version starring legendary movie star Alan Ladd in the title role of Jay Gatsby. The most popular or rather known version came out in 1974, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow as Gatsby and Daisy. Luhrmann’s adaptation might not be entirely accurate to the source material, but then what adaptation is? However, the film manages to follow the plot closely and stays true to the spirit of Fitzgerald’s novel. Even though, it is undoubtedly highly exaggerated and stylized. The visual style is another example of digital 3D done arguably right, alongside Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (2012).
The film begins with first-person narration by former WWI veteran and Wall Street bond salesman Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who is currently rehabilitating for alcoholism and depression in a sanatorium. Nick tells the story of the superlatively charismatic and wealthy Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio), who used to throw lavish parties in The Roaring Twenties and his doomed romance with Nick’s second cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). Gatsby is an enigmatic character, people have different interpretations about him but no one really knows who is beyond the public persona. How much of what he says about himself is true or false? Luhrmann is evidently repeating the flashback narrative structure of Moulin Rouge! (2001). What follows is a story of dramatic weight; themes of decadence, greed, excess, unrequited love, betrayal and tragedy. Essentially, an allegorical cautionary tale of the American dream. If Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984), depicted New York in the 1920’s from the perspective of rising Jewish ghetto gangsters on the Lower-East Side. Then, The Great Gatsby is from the perspective of the wealthy elite, the resentful sentiments towards them in the film are an autobiographical aspect of Fitzgerald’s life present in the original novel, he and his wife Zelda, actually attended these lavish parties until they finally, were disgusted by the lifestyle of wealthy elite and called it quits.
Overall, it’s an engaging visual extravaganza to be seen on the big screen and DiCaprio gives a great performance as Jay Gatsby, despite lacking the subtleties of his Howard Hughes portrayal in Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004). An engrossing cinematic experience, considering it’s by Luhrmann, whose well received films such as Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! are rather overrated. The soundtrack, which many have been quick to slam, featuring contemporary popular music comes off as out-of-place but somehow works by conveying how the times have not changed all that much since then and successfully evokes the needed sentiments in the audience. There is also a perceivable attempt to tie-in contemporary themes and world views that are painfully universal and timeless - excessive greed and wealth going hand in hand with power, corruption. However outrageous and exaggerated the story may appear, there is still a gleaming relevance to the thematic undertones.
Box-office-wise, It was a bold decision to release ‘Gatsby’ in the summer blockbuster season, which is predominantly dominated by action and explosions. The risk paid off thanks to DiCaprio’s bankable star power and the film’s dazzling 3D spectacle.