Good Gatsby: A Review
If you know of Baz Luhrmann, then reading that he will be directing a new film will excite you as you expect a film filled with so many bells and whistles there won’t be any left for anyone else. If you don’t know of Baz Luhrmann, then reading he will be directing a film, indeed that they even let people called Baz make films that don’t have Vinnie Jones in, will probably mean nothing to you, and you’ll probably wonder why he isn’t continuing his usual job of running the local dog fighting syndicate round the back of that pub, or beating up anyone that has ever even toyed with the notion of wearing glasses. But that’s neither here nor there.
It was almost too good to be true, a great classic American novel, filled with so much glamorous cinematic potential and a director with such unapologetic confidence that once turned Kiss’s ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ into a soppy ballad, and had the audacity of combining it into a medley with soppiest of soppy McCartney songs (and that’s saying something) and Bowie’s Heroes (a song set in front of the Berlin wall and so detached from Moulin Rouge its almost hysterical) AND THEN slams it next to Whitney’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ with a fold of the arms and satisfying nod so grand you can’t help but just think: yeah, that’s really good that, Baz, nicely done.
Which is what makes his interpretation of the Great Gatsby a little underwhelming, a bit like someone who wasn’t Baz Luhrmann trying to make a Baz Luhrmann film. The charm and spectacle of 1920s jazz-age America soon begins to wear as the film answers all questions anyone may have before they even have a chance to be asked. And you want to ask them, you really want to get involved, but the parade of spectacle is so excitable it drags you onto the next scene before you’ve digested the previous one, like a small excitable child showing you round their room presenting you with all the nice shiny toys they have, but not really letting you play with any of them.
It’s a good film, and ticks all the boxes, but the fantastical display often sets itself at odds with the storyline, with once subtle and gorgeous literary nuances and symbols forced into overt hyperbole with patronising repetition – If I saw one more billowing curtain I’d swear to wrap it round Nick Carraway’s neck, but the blasted protagonist would probably be so passionless he’d either just slip through or submit with so little resistance you’d have to stop for feeling like you’re strangling a disabled kitten.
Carraway’s apparent incapability of properly interacting with any of the characters in any meaningful way is of course no criticism of the story, but it isn’t helped (or is it maximised?) but Toby Maguire’s equally expressionless (but definitely slappable) face; he reminds you of the type of guy who would converse solely in emoticons for fear of revealing his true, rather boring, persona.
The much hyped soundtrack could have easily been a side project and lacked the more natural integration that Moulin Rouge oozed with ease, which raises the question of how well it will age. Jay-Z’s ‘$100 Bill’ is a genuine highlight but this is unfortunately nullified by Lana Del Rey’s insistent lap of honour ever half an hour or so to smugly remind you that it is indeed not 1922, pulling the illusion, much against the wishes of everyone, from underneath.
Leonardo Di Caprio delivers exactly what is required of the mystical Gatsby character, and it would be hard to imagine anyone else cast as one of the most intriguing and beguiling men in literature. Equally Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton’s performances are too enjoyable, highlighting the fact that there are good bits, but they could have been great.
I suppose it was natural that subtleties were going to be first up against the wall in a Baz Luhrmann production and it can’t be had both ways, but you can’t help feeling it was those particular touches that make it such a special book for so many people and through sacrificing them, it may well isolate as many as it begins to bore. Nonetheless, the film is certainly an enjoyable watch, and certainly much easier then reading all those words in that book version, having to question certain elements and discuss themes and symbols which are up for interesting interpretation AND THEN having to put it all together in your own head! Here they let you know what is right to think without having to think it! If nothing else, the film’s damned easier.