The Great Gatsby (2013)

(Video on Demand, September 2013) As a certified Moulin Rouge fan, I had been waiting a while for Baz Luhrmann to return to the same overblown wide-screen film style.  Fortunately, the wait is over: The first half of his adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is crammed with visual excess, lush 3D cinematography, frantic energy and flashy camera work.  As a way to portray the excesses of the Roaring Twenties (along with a not-so-anachronistic hip-hop soundtrack), it works splendidly and I can see myself gleefully revisiting that part of the film before long.  The film reaches an apex of sorts as it magnificently introduces the titular Gatsby (a perfectly-cast Leonardo DiCaprio) with fireworks and a wink.  Toby Maguire makes for a good everyday-man audience stand-in through this madness and the film eventually calms down during its increasingly somber second half as the true themes of the story play out and reach their tragic conclusion.  Luhrmann is the real star of The Great Gatsby, but the actors he brings on board all have their chance to shine.  I’m not a fan of Casey Mulligan, but she couldn’t have been better that she is here as a flapper; Joel Edgerton also does well as he goes toe-to-toe with DiCaprio.  As an adaptation, the film faithfully keeps the plot, overplays the symbolism, dispenses with a few subtleties, adds a framing device that’s not entirely useless and provides enough of a thematic slant on the material to keep fans of the book arguing in depth about intended meaning.  On a surface level, The Great Gatsby is well worth-watching for its visual sheen (especially its first 30 minutes): this is an indulgent, no-budget-limits style of filmmaking that I enjoy tremendously, and as a way to present a classic curriculum novel, it’s invigorating.

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