Release Date: May 10, 2013
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire
Runtime: 143 min
An astounding adaptation of a novel is rare. Some notable greats include The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club, and recently, Life of Pi. There are bad ones, like every other Stephen King adaptation (that isn’t handled by acclaimed directors or starring great actors). The newest book-to-movie adaptation is of The Great Gatsby, where Baz Luhrmann decides to stay faithful to the source material, and this turns out to be a great adaptation of a highly-acclaimed book.
Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a Midwestern war veteran who moves to Long Island, and he soon becomes attracted to the past and lifestyle of his millionaire neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Luhrmann takes a unique stylish approach to the source material, and there’s enough substance to keep movie-goers satisfied. The odd scene feels empty and rings dull. This is most notably the interaction at the barbershop between Wolfsheim, Gatsby and Carraway. The audience does the feel the emotions they’re supposed to feel, and they become invested in the few characters (Gatsby, Carraway) that are actually likeable. The symbols of the Green Light and the Eyes of of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg are significant enough to the story, that they begin to become characters in themselves; and they begin to feel more likeable than some of the characters. Luhrmann achieves his fantastic vision, while still keeping Fitzgerald’s classic themes – love, hope, dreams, the past, wealth, prosperity, the American dream – intact.
Simultaneously, he achieves the Fitzgerald-like vision, and I think F. Scott Fitzgerald would approve of this if he were alive. I like to think I comprehend the cultural significance of the source novel, even if it is a boring book. I’d rather re-visit this movie and not the book, and that might be because I think listening to big words is easier than reading them. The movie is just as slow as the book itself, but if it were any quicker, it would feel rushed. A rushed movie wouldn’t leave such a lasting impression. It’s a great adaptation because the viewer feels the same way as if they were actually reading the novel. The thought-provoking feature is handled so well and it is very well-made. It’s always intelligent and rarely boring. If one reads the novel, there’s no way they could imagine set pieces so lavish and magnificent as this. I think this is quite the great achievement.
The extravagant set pieces, production design and costume design truly capture the essence of the 1920’s. This movie will make you fall in love with the time period all over again. The contemporary music surprisingly fits the amazing parties that are thrown, as well as the movie’s style. The contrast between the rich lifestyle of Long Island and the slum-like lifestyle of the Valley of Ashes is fascinating.
The introduction of each character is refreshing, and each star captures the significance and mystery of each character. The cast is a great ensemble. Joel Edgerton brings some fine intensity and spot-on arrogance to the despicable Tom Buchanan. If there’s any role to make Edgerton a household name, it’s this one. Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher are the right choices to capture the poor, paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle of the 1920s, as George and Myrtle Wilson, respectively. Elizabeth Debicki rocks her big feature film debut as Jordan Baker. Carey Mulligan (who is almost always fantastic) is delicate and stunning as the irritating Daisy Buchanan, but she really embraces the foolishness of the character, and she performs superbly.
Tobey Maguire is adequate as Nick Carraway. He’s the character that has to keep everyone’s secrets. Maguire’s range of emotions isn’t wide. There’s some obvious emotions of regret, contempt and anxiety when he’s writing about Gatsby; and he always seems intrigued and in awe in Gatsby’s presence. He’s a better presence when he is narrating. The pairing of Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio reminds me of the Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman pair of The Shawshank Redemption. Everyone will praise the latter, and the former will get the shorter end of the stick. Every person who walks out of the theatre will be discussing the latter performer first.
DiCaprio truly captures the essence of Gatsby, a man of hope, of mystery, and delicacy, a man who rose from ashes to be, like Jack Dawson of Titanic, “king of the world”. He is an intriguing character, it just feels right to hear DiCaprio say “old sport” so much in one movie. After watching this great man portray Gatsby, it’s hard to imagine anyone other actor in the role. He gives one hell of a performance, and he is one of the best things about the film. He draws the viewers into the picture more; and the movie truly takes flight right when the essential introduction of the mystery host comes about. It’s really a refreshing introduction to an intriguing character.
Luhrmann surprisingly stays faithful to the novel. He maintains the intelligent themes, takes some really boring material out, and throws some fresh material in. The movie is long and it feels that way, but everything unfolds in a visually compelling way. It’s rarely boring, and Luhrmann truly makes classic literature feel sexy. The utilization of 3D makes the sets even cooler, and it feels like it adds a whole new layer. This is a very good adaptation of a novel hailed as one of literature’s greatest books and tragedies; but sadly, and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t translate into one of cinema’s greatest films.