Review: The Great Gatsby - The Pretty Darn Good Gatsby

Widely considered as the greatest piece of American literature of all time, F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby has been converted to screen countless times, starting in a 1926 stage adaptation, rumored to be the best of the bunch, but alas has been lost, with the trailer only remaining. The most notable is the 1974 version starring Robert Redford, a film I never really liked because it was such a direct adaptation of the source, making it quite dull and bland at times. A very forgettable TV movie was made in the year 2000 starring Paul Rudd which was kind of dire. So it was about time Romeo + Juliet's Baz Luhrmann got his hands on such a classic piece. All looks good then? Oh yes and Jay Z is the executive producer. W-what. I don't mean that's bad, the executive producer has very little creative input in the final product of a film, it just seemed really odd. Oh well, on with the review.

Let's start with the cast. Reading the book for the first time, and about a year before I had seen the film, I imagined the protagonist to be like DiCaprio, and he really fits the character. He can be smug, kind, emotional, angry, just as the character needs. A risk of casting him would be that like, for example, some Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt films where the audience will only see the actor rather than the character because they are so famous. This wasn't really a problem here, with Leo convincingly portraying a much-loved and notorious literature character without us having to relate to his real life famous persona. Which is all lovely.
Tobey Maguire, not so much. He was never really a great actor, one of the reasons Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 worked so well was that they were good despite the fact he was their star. He performs as well as Tobey does, but he suffers just muttering his lines with little emotion, except for anger and awe. That being said, those characteristics are very important to Nick Carraway's character, so there's no real harm done. Not exceptional but by no accounts offensive.
Carey Mulligan performs excellently as Daisy Buchanan, she nails the frivolous innocence and confusion that's vital to the character, and she has great chemistry with all he other cast members, including DiCaprio, which only strengthens her scenes and her relationships onscreen. Very nice.
Her husband Tom, as played by Zero Dark Thirty and Warrior's Joel Edgerton, is absolutely brilliant, and I feel that the film lights up when he's onscreen. He's threatening, but in the same way that Christoph Waltz is threatening in Inglourious Basterds, meaning that he doesn't have to be overtly menacing to become sinister. That said, when he does get angry, he really is threatening. Very good acting and great representation of the character, with great chemistry with all, especially his mistress Myrtle (Isla Fisher).
Talking of Isla Fisher, I'll talk about the rest of the supporting cast. Not as strong, I'm afraid, not from an acting perspective but mainly from a writing angle. They're characters never really amount to anything important, except for when the script applies to them, which happens once for each of them. Isla Fisher's Myrtle has very little interaction with her husband Wilson (Zero Dark Thirty's Jason Clarke). The book's love interest for Nick, Jordan (played by Elizabeth Debicki) doesn't actually become romantically involved with Tobey. In fact she doesn't do much, which is because the story is compromised substantially. Let's talk about that more...
The film looks and sounds great. The contemporary soundtrack actually works, it's made to sound near to 20s music enough but has the bold, garish feel of the film. There's a lot of bold, garish effects and sets, which only add to the rushed hectic feel of the film, which in some ways is quite exciting. There's a very nice soundtrack piece, Young and Beautiful by Lana Del Rey, which is the main theme for Daisy and Gatsby. Have a listen.
Baz seems to have tried to replicate the feel of the book rather than the substance. The book wasn't necessarily about just Gatsby, the whole point was about the failure to achieve the American Dream, along with greed and superficiality and whatnot, whereas the film focuses almost completely on the love plot, with little meaning other than the character's motives. There are some symbolic moments, the film opens with a long shot of a green light coming through the mist, which becomes integral to the plot and of Gatsby's emotions. What this means is that characters are left to mill about saying some stuff that doesn't add up to much, meaning there are long periods or scenes which needed not be in there and are kinda there for show (a bit like Gatsby's life actually. SYMBOLISM.) This doesn't make for unenjoyable viewing, it just means that large meaningful sections of the book that made it so good are left out. Not bad, in fact it was necessary for a film adaptation, the problem is there's so much classic substance left out.
The Great Gatsby is near impossible to translate perfectly onto screen, and each of the films have a sort of generic feeling to them, like no ground breaking focus is being achieved. That said, this does well enough, making a highly enjoyable and emotional film that's very well made both technically and dramatically, even if it is not the best adaptation.

I give The Great Gatsby 3.5 stars

What did you think of The Great Gatsby? Would you say it was a good adaption?