The Great Gatsby (2013) Review

Baz Luhrmann’s version of this classic slice of Americana begins with the whimsical conceit of a 1920’s style movie logo before gradually sharpening to the 21st Century’s high definition cinema experience. Unfortunately, thanks to the lure of unnecessary 3D, Luhrmann can’t resist throwing his whole tired bag of tricks at the screen.

I saw it in 2D (actually, in 2D with subtitles) and shorn of the novelty value of the illusion of depth, the camera’s swooping and darting as if tied to the back of a swallow, with rapid cuts, crossfades and switch cuts between vintage footage, mock-aged footage vast wide tracking shots are distracting and unnecessary. His penchant for selecting anachronistic music feels intrusive here; especially when such effort has been put into trying to realistically recreate booming 1920s New York.  “Realistically”, though, is a loaded term when it comes to Baz Luhrmann, one of the few directors around who has a definite style. That style, though, seems to be an inability to make anything look real, even the real physical sets. It all looks a little bit off, a little bit dreamlike. Ultimately, that’s Luhrmann’s style and you can take it or leave it.

However, once the story tightens its focus to Gatsby, Daisy and Nick, Luhrmann, like his audience, seems utterly captivated and quietens his style down to allow the three main players to do their stuff. Although Tobey Maguire brings his full repertoire of seven facial expressions to The Great Gatsby, (occasionally uncomfortably reminding you of his increasingly dreary run as Peter Parker), he ups his game considerably when sharing the screen with DiCaprio and Mulligan. Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan are mesmerising in their roles, Mulligan especially infusing Daisy with a fragility that tempts you, even in the tragic finale, to forgive her ultimate cowardice.

It’s often said that whether you end up loving or loathing Shakespeare is almost entirely down to the English teacher(s) you had at school when you studied the Bard’s works. The same is probably true for other set texts and, although I love Shakespeare, I had a terrible English teacher when I came to read F Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel and so I got almost nothing from the experience of reading it.

Twenty-plus years later and this glitzy, glamorous, over-indulgent adaptation of the novel is a revelation, stylistically echoing the excess of the Roaring Twenties while thematically putting its finger right on the “now” of haves and have-nots, the 99% versus the entrenched and untouchable 1% and what, exactly, is behind the shiny facade of the Capitalist ideal.

This version falls just short of being definitive, but it’s a classy, well-acted and lovingly crafted version of the classic novel.