I’m not going to lie: I’m a pretty big fan of Australian director Baz Luhrmann. I loved STRICTLY BALLROOM, ROMEO + JULIET, MOUIN ROUGE! and, yes, even AUSTRALIA. I can understand why most people wouldn’t like him or his films (he definitely is a required taste) but there is something about his films that have always struck a chord with me. He is one of the most unique directors working today and anytime he announces a new project, it shoots right to the top of my must see list. So I was definitely excited to check out his latest film THE GREAT GATSBY, which I had pretty high expectations for. Did the film manage live up to my expectations? You’re damn right it did!
Based on the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald the film tells story of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a young man who, after returning from WWI and graduating from Yale University, moves to New York City to begin his career as a bonds salesman in 1922. Once he gets there he rents out a small little cottage outside the city in a place called West Egg, Long Island, which is home to many wealthy families. Also he happens to live right across the lake from his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her rich husband Tom (Joel Edgerton). Nick happens to live next door to very large mansion that owned by the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who every weekend throws a huge and lavish party at his house that everyone is invited to. One day Nick receives an invitation from Gatsby to attend one of his parties and he decides to go. While during the party, he meets Gatsby and the two of them soon become good friends. However over time Nick soon discovers some secrets about Gatsby, one of which involves a romantic past with his cousin Daisy.
Now I should state before I continue with this review by saying that I have never read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original novel that this film is based on. I’ll be reviewing THE GREAT GATSBY on its own as a film rather than as an adaptation since I haven’t read the novel, so I won’t be able compare how it works as one (although I did see the 1974 film adaptation that starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, which I thought was a solid film but I do know that a lot of people who didn’t like it). So on its own for what it is, I thought that it was a terrific and very entertaining film that I was engaged by from beginning to end, this is a truly another truly visual spectacle from director Baz Lurhmann.
While do understand why most people will hate it and feel that his visual style doesn’t work for the film at all (I assume that there will be a lot of people, especially fans of the novel) but for me it worked extremely well and I thought it actually suited for the type of story that is being presented here. It could have easily have been a pretty standard and straight forward made film (not that there isn’t anything wrong with that) but in Lurhmann’s hands he makes it feel unique and stand out more as an adaptation, especially one that been adapted for the screen many times previously (personally, I’ll always take something that tries to be different). If you have seen Lurhmann’s other films, you definitely know what to expect. He is a director has never really made a film that was either subtle or even reality based but I do love his over-the-top heighten sense of reality approach that he brings to all his films. His directorial style is definitely influenced by the likes of theatre, old Hollywood epics, melodramas, Bollywood, MTV and post modern filmmaking. Again, I can see why most people don’t like him and feel that he makes films that just style over substance but personally I think is a great director and he actually does bring a substance to his films. I thought that themes that were explored here were handled quite well and it actually gave the film some depth. He even dials down his style many times throughout the film so that it doesn’t interfere in what is happening in those scenes. Plus, like he did with MOULIN ROUGE!, I liked that Lurhmann used modern music in the film as well. Yes, some songs did feel odd and out-of-place (particularly the hip hop songs) but other songs were used extremely well and effectively. In a way he wanted showcase how the party scenes of both the 20’s and today are really no different and I really liked how they were combined together. The soundtrack overall is fantastic and it’s definitely one I’m going to buy for sure. Plus he has assembled quite a strong cast for this film as well.
The cast all do a great job with their roles but the stand out, of course, being Leonardo DiCaprio as “Gatsby”. He is truly terrific in the role and he brings so many layers to his performance that make “Gatsby” as well-rounded character. Also he is anchored by a great supporting cast: I thought Tobey Maguire did a pretty good job as “Nick”, I can see why some people may not like him in this film but I thought he was solid and Carey Mulligan was also very good as “Daisy”. However the stand out performances of the supporting cast for me were definitely Aussies Joel Edgerton as “Tom” and, particularly, newcomer Elizabeth Debicki as “Jordan Baker”. They were both terrific but Debicki definitely steals every scene she is in (believe it or not, she only gotten out of acting school before she got the role. I predict she going to be the next big thing). Both Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke are also give quite solid performances as well. They have as much screen time as I thought they would have had but they make the most of the roles. Also I did like how there were so many Aussie actors (Jack Thompson, Adelaide Clemens, Vince Colosimo, Barry Otto, Gemma Ward etc.) in small roles as well. Plus the production/costume design by Catherine Martin is simply fantastic, Simon Duggan’s cinematography is absolutely stunning (it’s without a doubt the best looking film you’ll see this year and one that definitely needs to be seen on the big screen), the score by Craig Armstrong is great and the use of CGI to enhance the world of the film was pretty solid.
Despite all the things that loved about the film, it isn’t perfect and it does have some flaws. While I did think that Lurhmann did a great job with his direction, although there were a few times where I felt his style did become a little too much and some scenes he used it in looked unintentionally funny (the introduction of “Daisy” is one that stood out for me). There were two separate scenes during the 3rd act which were meant to be these really big dramatic and emotional moments but unfortunately how they were directed and staged, it came off rather jarring and didn’t have the impact that they would’ve had. Also I thought the wrap around scenes with “Nick” being in a sanatorium for his alcoholism (and as well as where he, at the suggestion of his Doctor, writes down all the events that happened to him with “Gatsby” in a book) weren’t really necessary to be honest. Not that they were bad or anything, they fine but they just weren’t needed for the film. Plus while Mulligan was quite good in the film, but I wished that they did a lot more with “Daisy” as a character. Even though I hadn’t read the book but have heard of some really interesting aspects about her that I think if they were incorporated more, “Daisy” would have made her a stronger character (though to be fair, Mulligan adds a lot of elements to her role that flesh her out a bit). Finally while the 3D itself was pretty good (especially during the more stylized scenes in the film) but I’m was quite surprised that Lurhmann didn’t utilize it as much as I though he would, which a bit disappointing. I just assumed he would have gone further with it since the idea of Lurhmann and 3D together seemed like a perfect match together. I suppose he didn’t want to go too overboard it, especially with a story like this which is fine (whether that is a good thing or a bad, I’ll leave it up to you).
Overall while THE GREAT GATSBY may not be a perfect film by any means but despite that I still found it to be a very compelling film. If you’re not a fan of Baz Lurhmann, this film isn’t going to change your mind about him. However I think if you can give it a chance and just go with it, you probably might enjoy as much as I did.
Review by Bede Jermyn