The ‘could be better’ Gatsby [no spoilers]

At a recent trip to the cinema I found myself rather stuck for choice. With the main films being listed as ‘The Hangover Part III’ and ‘Fast & Furious 6’ it was going to be a tough decision as to which mind numbingly stupid film to tolerate. However after scrolling to the bottom of the list there was an escape rope from the stupidity i wasn’t going to turn down; The Great Gatbsy.

I went in to the screening knowing very little about Gatsby (much like many of the characters coincidentally) so I was watching the film with a completely open mind. I knew that it was directed by Baz Lurhmann, a director whom I’ve never really appreciated based on his track record. It was unfortunately in 3D as there were unforeseen problems with timing that could not be avoided. Gritting my teeth as I entered the screen room and being handed a pair of ridiculous glasses the first hurdle was completed. Now for the film.

In terms of plot it stays quite nicely along the lines of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel with some branches of added scenes and taken scenes. It tells the story of a man called Nick Carraway who lives next to a large house owned by a mysterious man called Jay Gatsby.  As the story progresses Carraway becomes more and more intrigued by the mysterious past of his neighbour and his eccentric lifestyle. After being invited to one of his many parties, Carraway enters in to Gatsby’s circle, learning more about his past and his love that he hungers to reclaim; Daisy Buchanan. Unfortunately Daisy is married to another man so with the help of Carraway, Gatsby hopes to reunite with his love, with consequences leaving a lasting impact on the central characters.

Now I will say this about the film, it is probably my favourite film by Baz Luhrmann. It may be similar to some of his previous works such as Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet however this seems to be more disciplined than his previous films so it was definitely a step in the right direction. What I mean by this is that his films seem to be too based around being different and artistic they sometimes lack depth and substance, but in the case of Gatsby the quirky nature is accompanied well by strong characters and focus on the events of the story. But the question stands, it may be Luhrmann’s best film, but was it the best adaptation of Gatsby? After watching the 1974 film I would have to say the answer is a resounding no. There were elements that needed tweaking.

Firstly there is the usual Luhrmann issue of the film being too quirky or different. So the scenes where we see Gatsby’s parties there is a lot of dancing and loud music that doesn’t seem to suit the nature of the film. After watching the original there is a clear differentiation between a soundtrack that suits the nature of the story and a soundtrack that doesn’t. The music from the 1974 film was very much suited to the time period and fell under the right genre, so during the party scenes of drinking and dancing it gave the audience a very good view of what such parties would have felt like. In the case of Luhrmann’s film we have a soundtrack with a lot of modern music by artists such as The XX and Florence + The Machine, who usually I don’t have an issue with, but in the case of Gatsby their music really didn’t suit it. With these large parties filled with guests drinking and dancing, and then modern music is just made the sequences feel like a fancy dress party of the modern age. Which is essentially what Luhrmann’s films usually feel like. If the soundtrack was for a film set in contemporary times I wouldn’t have an issue with it, but when it’s pinned to a film set in the 1920s it does feel somewhat out of place.

In terms of acting I’m quite torn. There is the unbelievably talented portrayal of Gatsby himself by Leonardo DiCaprio who is more than a match for Robert Redford. His portrayal gave you everything you would expect from Gatsby; charming, sophisticated, clever but with a darker feel to it. Toby McGuire stars as Nick Carraway who if I’m honest with you didn’t have a lot of appeal to it. The character of Carraway is one that is more delicate than Gatsby so there has to be a clear contrast, which there was but for me it was too much. McGuire felt too much like a wet blanket and didn’t nail the character as best as he could have done. Also notably his voice being used for the narrative was quite annoying as we hear his soft voice throughout the events. And then we have the character of Daisy Buchanan played by Carey Mulligan who performance was suited to the film. For me it was not as good as Mia Farrow’s portrayal of Buchanan but it was not without merit. There were additional acting roles throughout the film that did feel like they would slot into other Luhrmann films which in some case suited and in others felt as if they missed the ball park completely.

Finally the special effects were quite a bother for me. I saw the film in 3D which I won’t dwell on too much but just suffice to say it added nothing to the film apart from reduce the colour saturation. I did take my glasses off for about one third of the film and it looked better fuzzy and colourful than it did jumping out of the screen. There are some scenes of city landscapes and fast cars throughout the film that I admit do look very good, however I do not feel they suit the nature of the subject matter. The 1974 Gatsby was very simplistic and focused very much on the characters and it did work very well. This adaptation has more focus on how the scenery looks and how certain sequences are executed which does suggest Luhramann’s priorities may not be in the right place. The scenes that feature Gatsby’s famous yellow Rolls Royce are very fast and are executed well, providing a side to Gatsby we don’t necessarily see in the 1974 version. There is a lot of concentration on the special effects but there seems to be less on the screenplay which was written by Luhrman himself with the help of Craig Pearce. I’m not saying they did a bad job with the screenplay, however it was never going to match the extreme talents of Francis Ford Coppola who wrote the screenplay for the 1974 version. Coppola has proved on many occasions that his writing is just superb so his writing for Gatsby is the best I have seen by far.

So overall I would give the film two and half stars out of five. It was an enjoyable experience for me, but it did not match the 1974 version. I’m glad I saw the film as it showed me that Baz Luhrmann is capable of making a film that is better than Australia. I could be better as there is clearly room for improvement but the film is not totally without merit. The 3D obviously did nothing for me so I do want to see it again in 2D to see if it’s as enjoyable for me. The last I heard Gatsby was in and around fifth and the box office, being beaten by ‘Hangover Part III’ and ‘Fast & Furious 6’ which does not come as a surprise really, that’s the nature of modern cinema. Hopefully it will gain more money at the box office than it has already, it is a film that deserves credit. Certainly more credit than any Hangover or Fast & Furious films. Now there are some films with problems.

This is the first film review I have written so hopefully it was useful to some people. Please feel free to leave any comments about the films or how useful this review was, in particular I’d like to hear any thoughts you have about Gatsby or Luhrmann.

Until the next time I shall leave you by repeating the words of Gatsby himself: Cheerio Old Sport.