Thursday, 30 May 2013

Film Review: The Great Gatsby

"It makes me sad because I've never seen such - such beautiful shirts before."

F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel 'The Great Gatsby', a work which most herald as his magnum opus, was a master piece of writing. Has Baz Luhrmann's film adaptation lived up to the name? Or has it failed like so many before?

Now, where to begin.....
Much like the book we have Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a Yale graduate and bond salesman, acting as the narrator of the story. In this case he is writing from a doctors office in a sanatorium where he is being treated for depression and alcoholism, amongst other things, a few years after the events the film portrays.
Through Nick's recording of his memories we are thrown into the early 1920's, a time of booming stock markets, Jazz, drink in excess and exuberance for the newly rich.
The introduction of Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is done masterfully, not immediately throwing him into the story, but teasing us with his presence and postponing his inevitable appearance. We are introduced to many ideas of Gatsby through party goers before the man himself is revealed.
Through  Nick's narrating  we see deep in to Gatsby's world. We see beyond the lavish West Egg parties and slowly but surely the real Gatsby is revealed, the Gatsby that makes his money via bootlegging and gangster affiliations. The Gatsby that has never stopped loving the girl he met 5 years ago, the girl he is building everything for, the girl named Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan).
Daisy is the cousin of Nick and is unhappily married to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), an old money Millionaire from East Egg. A man she married when Gatsby stopped writing her following the war.
Tom is an arrogant man who plays Polo, as much as he dislikes being known as the Polo player. His character is well performed by Edgerton. His self assured superiority clearly present, but at times his softer, if a little misguided, side shows through.
Tom's affair with Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher), and the ensuing dilemma Nick find's him self in when he discovers it, is played out fantastically. Nick's feeling of being both involved and being an outside observer really makes the audience appreciate his situation, should he say something to his cousin about her husband? Should he just watch it play out and be the observer?
The many crucial moments of drama through the film are handled well, the only one that I think could be approached better is when Gatsby and Tom finally have it out over the future of Daisy in a sweltering Manhattan hotel room. The focus on how hot it is, with the ice block and the fans, the way heat effects temperament, all create an atmosphere that feels like it should have an emotionally explosive end. This DiCaprio does deliver, but it just felt forced and all too suddenly over. For such a plot important scene it felt rushed and like it was only there because there was nothing better going on for a few minutes. More focus being given to the sports car racing before the scene than to the scene its self.

All round the performances were commendable, I think they were fitting for the relevant characters. The few scenes that didn't feel quiet right I think came down to directing more than the performance of the actor.
It was very much clear that Luhrmann was making the film he wanted to make, regardless of anything else.
Which makes me draw a parallel to Gatsby's attitude in the film before the fateful afternoon tea with Daisy:

"Do you think it's too much?" ask's Gatsby as he surveys Nick's living room, now swamped with flowers. "I think it's what you want" replies Nick. To which Gatsby replies "I think so too", with no hint of an apology or  notice of what Nick is implying. 

We can all say "it's not as good as the book", and let's face it - things rarely are. But that doesn't always make an adaptation bad, just different. This was as good a adaptation, well presented and well performed. I think it has done as best as can be expected from a film adaptation of a book and has lived up to the name of The Great Gatsby.
I give it a 3.5 out of 5.

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