Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Great Gatsby Review

As Baz Luhrmann's extravagant, modern rendition of F.Scott Fitzgerald's classic bursts onto the scene this summer as Cannes fancyful festival opener, how does it fare against all the seemingly insurmountable hype it has managed to generate in blazing its way towards the pedestal it now stands upon as this year's most ostentatious summer blockbuster?

The simple answer is: rather well. As I braced myself for the huge disappointment I expected would follow as a consequence of all the excitement this film was generating worldwide, upon watching it I was allowed a sigh of relief. I actually really enjoyed it. It has to be said that in general, by far the strongest aspect of this film was the visual spectacle of it, and unsurprisingly so, as with Luhrmann's other films it is easy to see that in terms of set and production design, as well as costume he likes to go all out. However, in none other of his films is this more evident than in The Great Gatsby, where Fitzgerald's 1920's Long Island hub for the rich and fashionable, and all around party central is brought to life. Having finished reading the book only and hour before I went into see the film, the story was still fresh in my mind. However, for anyone who read this book a while ago, I think this rendition will breathe new life into a story that I think can just as easily be understood and appreciated by an audience of any age or generation.

At it's core it remains a tale of romance, a mockery of the American dream. However I imagine to the delight of English literature teachers nationwide, much of the symbolism found in the book remains intact if in a less subtle, implied manner than in the book. If anything it feels magnified and glaringly obvious, which is perhaps one of the film's downfalls, as in it's eagerness to display the extravagance of Gatsby's grandiose parties, it fails to retain the refined nature of the book. In as much as Luhrmann's Gatsby adaptation sets the scene of the book with it's introduction of what Fitzgerald himself described as the 'steady golden roar' of the twenties, there is also a faint reflection of our current generation in the representation of the over the top parties and New York night life.

This observation is largely, if not entirely down to the use of the much anticipated soundtrack as both a diegetic and non-diegetic accompaniment to the telling of the story. Despite the initial blasting of Jay Z's hip-hop melodia being a little perturbing to begin with, as I eased into the story it began to feel more natural, and I think the film itself is all the better for the soundtrack as, along with the extravagant visual style it accompanies, it manages to distinctly earmark the film as this generation's adaptation of Fitzgerald's novel.
I think overall, one of my favourite aspects of the soundtrack was the way in which they interwove the melody of Lana Del Rey's 'Young and Beautiful' into the score, essentially making it the leitmotif of Daisy and Gatsby's relationship. I also think that hearing the soundtrack in the context of the film gave me a new found appreciation for it, and I enjoyed the many ragtime and jazz inspired covers of modern songs peppered throughout the party scenes.

Some of the negative aspects of the film I thought were it's length, however being as I was completely involved and immersed in the story, for the most part I didn't really notice so much. Also, having the book still very much fresh in my mind, on numerous occasions I heard lines directly from the book which I think was really cool, though I felt one or two lines felt a little unnatural. Not that they weren't acted well, simply that because they were pulled straight from the book, they weren't necessarily very cinematic, so perhaps the screenplay could have been adapted better for the screen. I also thought the use of CG was a little excessive, and for the most part unnecessary as I feel that the story itself didn't benefit from it. Despite visually enhancing the grandeur of 1920's New York, at times it felt more like a lacquer finish that only served to make the already stunning set pieces that little bit less believable. 

The acting was great, particularly of course Dicaprio and Mulligan whom I thought delivered great performances. Carey Mulligan was mesmerizing as Daisy, as she really manages to draw suitably mixed emotions from you as the film progesses, though admittedly slightly less so than in the book as she brings a whimsy an innocence to Daisy which often feels a little misplaced.
Dicaprio, I think made the perfect Gatsby. He manages to draw the same feelings of pity from me as I had felt only hours before as I finished the book. He really does bring the perfect balance of confidence and class with a dose of fragile vulnerability and naivety , bordering on obsession that I understood when I imagined Gatsby in my head. He really did nail it.
Also just as an aside, maybe its just me, but I felt the actress who plays Jordan Baker, Australian newcomer Elizabeth Debicki, was extremely underused. I thought she was really good and did well with the few lines she was given. I thought she fit convincingly into her role, not only with her striking appearance, but with the direct and cynical nature she brings to the role which, I feel perfectly encapsulates Jordan's character. Also, I can't be the only one who thinks she bears an uncanny resemblance to Rooney Mara, can I? Its really odd...I think its the eyes.

Anyway, overall I really enjoyed The Great Gatsby, and felt it managed to be a really loyal adaptation of Fitzgerald's novel, whilst managing to instill new life into what I imagine many people will assume is perhaps a  dated or boring book. Though I can't recommend enough how much more enjoyable an experience it was, at least for me, having read the book before seeing it, it isn't crucial. Also, I don't think seeing it in 3D is neccessary either, other than the fact that it highlighted and brought certain characters to the forefront nicely, and I suppose just kind of added to the pomp and extravagance of it all. However, I think this is the kind of film that is beautiful to behold either way, as though Luhrmann picked up the book with hands full of glitter and confetti and let it all seep in. If you've seen Luhrmann's more recent films and enjoyed his quirky OTT style, then you'll probably enjoy this a whole lot. On the other hand, you could totally hate it. I've seen a lot of negativity from critics around the interwebs completely ripping this film to shreds, though I really think its the kind of film you have to go and see yourself to decide whether you like it or not. Luhrmann's gaudy flamboyant style isn't for everyone.