Let me start off by saying that this is not a review. If we have to call it something, let’s call it the product of the misconception that my opinion of the movie matters to anyone. I don’t purport to know about the finer aspects of filmmaking. I am a massive fan of The Great Gatsby, and consider it one of the literary masterpieces I’ve had the privilege of reading, so of course, when I heard that the movie was being made, along with discovering by and starring whom, I was skeptical, concerned, and a bit annoyed.
Before going to see it, and having discussed it in advance with a few people, I made sure to discard all preconceptions about what I thought it would or should be. I ignored the fact that, while I’m one of the biggest Moulin Rouge fans you’ll meet, I certainly do not consider myself a Baz Luhrmann fan. But I didn’t want to be THAT guy, the chap who sounds like he’s quoting some snobbish, pretentious movie critic. I made sure to forget words like ‘bastardise’ and ‘nuance’. I simply went, with a lovely group of people, to go watch a movie.
And what an excellent movie I thought it was. While the first half in particular was just a clump of dazzling scenes put together and packed full of sensory assaults and snippets of seemingly important dialogue, as it progressed, it became quite a bit more.
Closer to its beginning, the screen jumped from scene to scene, character to character, and semi-witty line to semi-profound sentence, and was the standard Baz Luhrmann spectacle (which I acknowledge has its appeal in movies like Moulin Rouge). The drug scene was effectively the absinthe scene from Moulin Rouge, and the first Gatsby party was entirely reminiscent of the Cancan scene in Moulin Rouge. We can forgive that, though. He probably can’t help himself.
As it developed, though, we began to see the characters shine. Despite the ‘Baz Luhrmann-ness’ of the entire film, the cast was exceptional. Leonardo DiCaprio was probably the right man for the job today, I stopped wondering why Isla Fisher was cast, and, while it’s not something you hear anyone say ever, Tobey Maguire wasn’t at all annoying.
While I’d have preferred the entire movie to be less of a ‘spectacle’, a little less flash and dazzle, Luhrmann managed to capture the core story quite well, constructing the characters well enough, and at the least, grasping the love aspect of the story quite accurately. The soundtrack was absolutely amazing, but with some songs unnecessarily thrown in just to be different.
So all in all, I thought it a spectacular film. As an adaptation of the book, however, I don’t have as many good things to say. At least he got the beautiful love story down.
For those of you who haven’t read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, let me describe it briefly. The book makes you feel as if you’re watching everything happen in slow motion, through a thick piece of glass. It is simultaneously intricately involved and completely detached.
The film didn’t at all manage to capture the subtlety with which the book tells the story, the complexity of the characters, or, most importantly, the several commentaries on society, both then, and in general. The book is full of dramatic events, but very little drama, which Luhrmann isn’t capable of conveying. I’m glad he didn’t try, though.
One last criticism: casting Amitabh Bachchan as Meyer Wolfsheim was a terrible idea. If the idea behind it was fun, then they should have done something… fun. The aged Indian actor was not at all the right fit for the important character based on Arnold Rothstein. Luckily, he didn’t feature much in the movie.
If you haven’t yet seen it, I’d recommend you do. It’s a fantastic movie. If you haven’t read the book, watch the film first, then do yourself a favour and explore the world Fitzgerald masterfully creates in the book. If you’re a fan of the book, watch it nonetheless. Just be sure to leave your appreciation for the book at the popcorn counter.