The summer movie season is in full swing and our next entry is Baz Lurman’s The Great Gatsby. This is a supposedly unfilmable novella. Other productions have been somewhat cursed. Even the Robert Redford version fell flat. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Baz stated box office sales were of no concern. The truly artistic director saw this as a challenge to his creative yen and that was satisfied just by making the movie. This attitude prepares you a bit for what you will see on the screen. The love and reverence for which Baz holds Fitzgerald’s actual words is obvious. Not only do they literally float across the screen in some places, we see Nick Carraway’s narration literally rips quotes from the book.
Luhrmann utilized some of the devices he has used in past films: the frame for the movie is a writer who must put down his tragic story as some sort of catharsis after amazing events. We also see Luhrmann’s trademark bacchanalia scenes. Place them side by side with Moulin Rouge and the only difference you would be able to tell is the costuming. Mind you, Luhrmann does take a wee bit of license with some elements. Having Jay-Z produce the soundtrack was an interesting choice. It strangely does not clash with the time period at all, and in some scenes actually enhances the narrative. Not every single element is accurate to the period and I’m sure history buffs would waggle their finger at a few of the party scene choices. The themes fit Luhrmann’s tastes perfectly. The tragedy, the romantic longing – these are all things we have seen him play with well in the past.
The casting is impeccable. Di Caprio, Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliette collaborator, is flawless as the mysterious and eternally hopeful Gatsby. We see his raw emotion as he meets Daisy again for the first time. Tobey Maguire plays well as an innocent Nick Carraway, drawn into all the character’s secrets. Joel Edgerton is menacing, heartbreaking and a scum bag rolled into one as Tom. Carey Mulligan, who seems to have a knack for playing the helpless female (see Drive), plays the shallow and delectable Daisy with ease. Her American accent is flawless and she has just the right mix of dewy eyes and vapid expression to bring the complex icon of Gatsby’s ambition to life.
Whatever you think of The Great Gatsby as a novel (which some some argue is nothing close to “The Great American Novel”), the movie translates and translates well; something that is difficult to do in cinema. A constant narrator can be annoying, but Luhrmann takes Nick and makes him a cipher for the audience. We’re able to know all the secrets of these people’s lives. We’re treated to the insights of Nick’s character as well in the form of some of Fitzgerald’s beautiful prose.
A lot of the elements are grandiose and heavy handed, but that is Luhrmann’s style and the book is not subtle in the least. Nick Carraway? Carried-away… you get it. If ever there was a grand marriage of prose and director this has to be it. Whether you love or hate the book, this is a movie to go see. 3D didn’t make it all that more enjoyable though 4D would have. With the massive amounts of glitter and confetti they used in the movie, you would have thought they would have shipped some of it out to the theaters to create an immersive movie experience. Prepare to be dazzled in some places.
Thankfully, the studios have seen past Luhrmann’s dull Australia and he’s in for more movie making in the future. Roll your stockings up and get your garters on. It’s time for all that jazz.
8 out of 10 green dock lights.