Film Review: The Great Gatsby


   Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby is one of the most heavily marketed films in memory - months and months of preparatory articles, focusing on the movie's fashion and soundtrack, have been used to whip up the mainstream into a frenzy of anticipation. Finally Gatsby has arrived and, now that the hype has died down, its possible to see in many ways the end product is like a firework - it soars, explodes with dazzling colours and then, once the reverberations of the crashing sounds have faded, there is nothing left but an empty void.  

   We enter Gatsby's world, that of 1920s New York, through the wide eyes of Nicholas Carraway (a winning Tobey Maguire), a young bond salesman who seems to be the only person not to engage in the wild parties at his new neighbour's house - instead Carraway seems to spend his time thinking about his married cousin, the high society Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). It would be fair to say that Carrawayhas a borderline unhealthy idealisation and infatuation with her.  

   One day, however, the salesman's life is transformed irreversibly when an invite arrives from his mysterious neighbour's house to attend one of his popular shin-digs - he's the only person to have ever received a formal invite to the occasion. What, wonders Carraway, does Gatsby want of him and, more importantly, who is this enigmatic millionaire? When our young protagonist does arrive at the debauched party, rumours abound which further cloud who the titular character may be  but, it becomes clear in no time, the reason Carraway has been summoned is because of his acquaintance with Daisy Buchanan. It is clear Gatsby and Daisy have something of a secret past and Carraway has the keys to re-unite them - as Daisy's husband, Tom, is a wild philanderer, Nicholas' decision is not as complicated as it first may seem but the intricate web which ties each of the characters together means every action he may take can cause seismic waves in the existence of others. (Follow this link for more information on who's who in Gatsby

   Ribald decadence is not something that belongs solely to the characters; it’s the raison d’etre of Luhrmann’s film-making style. Nuances, subtlety, austerity, and emotions are a waste of time in the Australian film-maker’s world when, instead, he can focus on sculpting the fabulous; substance, in his eyes, is a waste of energy that could over wise be spent on crafting sublime superficiality. Rather than satirising the vapid, Luhrmann often seems to be celebrating it for it's own sake (and the bursts of hip-hop on the soundtrack, the most materialistic of all genres ever created, backs this up). Whilst colours popped and every possible opportunity for a camera rush was utilised with unabashed profligacy, it's still impossible to know (despite two hours in their company) who most of the main characters were and what drove them. The only character with any real meat on their bones was Di Caprio's Gatsby; a tragic, male version of Holly Golightly. Kudos must be given, however, to Maguire for trying to wring any essence of character from a thinly sketched script.

   Those surprised at the lack of subtlety in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby clearly have little knowledge of the director’s oeuvre which, for the most part, dispenses of subtext or, indeed, anything cerebral in favour of grandiose spectacles and majestic pomp. Luhrmann is a director with all the restraint of  Michael Bay depending on your personal preferences this is either a good or very, very bad thing.To Luhrmann, the joy of manipulating visuals (with panoramic camera movements and technicolour flourishes) is far more of an important aspect to his film than fully realised characters. For those who are interested in nothing more than being washed along on a tide of pretty cinema and a bombastic Jay-Z produced soundtrack, then the film will be everything one could wish for. Those with higher expectations may find that this Gatsby adaptation is not as superlative as it's title would have you believe.

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2 comments

  1. Very well written review. I love Baz Luhrmann and was very impressed by has adaptation of The Great Gatsby - I love the clash of old/new :)

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