Most of this summer’s biggest releases have been divisive. Both Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness have split the fans of their respective source material, and The Great Gatsby is no different. Based on the novel of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald, it tells the story of the mysterious, reclusive billionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception, Titanic) who we observe through the eyes of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man, Seabiscuit). Exactly who is this Mr Gatsby, why does he keep hosting such extravagant parties, and how is he involved with Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan, Doctor Who, Drive)?
I have yet to read the book that the film is based on (but I intend to soon), so I have decided to review the film as a film in its own right. I have also never been a huge fan of the director, Baz Luhrmann. I disliked Romeo + Juliet, and I haven’t seen Moulin Rouge! But in this instance, his unique direction works. The sheer extravagance of the film, complete with a cacophony of noise and colour, works perfectly against the backdrop of the 1920s. And the soundtrack, which I thought would stick out like a sore thumb, smoothly blends the work of modern artists like Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey and Beyoncé with the music of the period. Superficially, The Great Gatsby is a treat for the eyes and the ears, dazzling the audience and allowing them to reflect during the quieter periods.
The casting is a mixed-bag. DiCaprio gives Gatsby his characteristic roguish charm, and it suits the way his character is down to a tee, even to the point of saying “old sport” at least once every scene! Mulligan’s Daisy is a sheltered and fragile character, and I think that worked for the portrayal that Luhrmann was going for. Another aspect of the characters that I enjoyed was the changing state of sympathies for them. One scene in particular, I remember finding it impossible to agree with either Gatsby or Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton, Star Wars, Smokin’ Aces), since they were both infallible, which I found quite refreshing.
But on the other hand, there are some flaws. Elizabeth Debicki, in first significant role as Jordan Baker, gets a pitiful amount of screen time, which is a shame as there was so much more that could be done with her role, and she clearly had the potential to do so. And speaking of underdeveloped characters, both Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher, Now You See Me, Burke and Hare) and her husband George (Jason Clarke, Public Enemies, Zero Dark Thirty) feel nothing more than walking, talking plot devices. But the one who comes off worse here is Maguire. Literally anyone else could have performed his role. He serves quite well as the detached observer, which is OK for the first 30 minutes of the film, but tires quickly when Gatsby rightfully takes the lead role. And on the rare instances that Maguire has to show any emotion, particularly anger, you can’t take him seriously. It reminded me of “emo Peter Parker” in Spider-Man 3, but it thankfully wasn’t that painful.
On the whole, The Great Gatsby was an enjoyable, yet not perfect experience. DiCaprio essentially makes this film, and works well with the indulgent, OTT backdrop. But some of the decisions taken with the characters didn’t work, resulting in a film that was good, but not without its flaws, yet not as bad as some critics would have you believe.