The Great Gatsby (2013) Review


Director: Baz Luhrmann

Writer: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce,  Source material: F. Scott Fitzgerald (novel)

Certificate: 12A    Running Time: 2hr 22 Mins

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire    


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Plot: Nick (Maguire) moves to the city and neighbours the mysterious Gatsby (DiCaprio). Meanwhile, Nick’s cousin Daisy (Mulligan) is embroiled in a tumultuous relationship with Tom (Edgerton). As Nick befriends Gatsby, he is dragged in to the lifestyle of the super-rich, events spiral out of control. 

Often credited as the great American novel, Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ (1925) is a rare breed of storytelling which has intrigued readers for generations. Encompassing a plethora of tragic elements, Gatsby is an iconic symbol of American literature that has become synonymous with the American dream. Many accomplished filmmakers have adapted the novel during the 20th century and have subsequently underwhelmed causing many to class the novel as ‘unfilmable’. Therefore, it was of some surprise that Australian Baz Luhrmann, the brains behind ‘Moulin Rouge’ and ‘Romeo + Juliet’, stepped forward to the daunting mantle of adding a contemporary spin to the classic. The apparition of the ageless Leonardo DiCaprio elevates the dramatic fervor of the Great Gatsby and ensures the emotional impact is not diluted amidst the glitz and glamour of the film’s superb cinematography. Gatsby is backed by an eclectic, soulful and hard hitting blend of songs which serve to effectively modernise the adaptation.

Despite a slow paced beginning, The Great Gatsby iteratively builds towards an enthralling climax which is confounding and thought provoking in equal measure. DiCaprio (Gatsby) and Mulligan (Daisy) share natural chemistry in a story of unrequited love, is it possible to re-live the past if we re-create the same set of circumstances from a previous life? Is the desire to do so obsessive? Those transfixed on the past often lose sight of the present and fail to plan for the future; but what if that has gone before is of such profound beauty that all will pale in comparison?

Luhrmann merits acclaim for giving prominence to such questions, one could even argue that more screen time should have been dedicated to exploring such themes rather than extensively portraying the glamour of Gatsby’s lifestyle. The party scenes, although expertly shot with great styling, do become a little repetitive during a slightly tedious opening quarter. The film could certainly have been thirty minutes shorter. That being said, the omission of such scenes may have eroded the overarching parable-like message and the powerful depiction of Nick (Maguire) and Gatsby’s unconditional friendship. A true friend is one who is there for darker times as well as the bright periods, The Great Gatsby thrusts this old adage into the limelight.

The alluring mystery around Gatsby casts a murky shadow over the entirety of the film; it is Luhrmann’s greatest accomplishment. How much do we really know about each other? We only know one’s expressive motivation; those thoughts which linger in the doldrums of our consciousness will forever remain a mystery. DiCaprio plays Gatsby with great imagination which heightens the intrigue around the millionaire’s background. Status achieved through sheer capital is only temporary and in a time where classism was vividly omnipresent, several characters exhibit discriminatory tendencies which make for fascinating conflicts throughout the film. The scene of the film sees Gatsby loses his temper in ‘town’, DiCaprio in prime form. The barren wasteland connecting the suburbs with the town serves as a stark metaphor for the gulf between the rich and the poor in the 1920s; sadly not much has changed.

With any novel which is translated to the silver screen, it is never a true representation of the author’s vision. Rather, it is the version of events in the mind of the filmmaker. The Great Gatsby should be seen as a separate entity to the novel and mustn’t be compared to Fitzgerald’s classic. In isolation, this is a film built on a foundation of fine performances from Mulligan, Edgerton and the superb DiCaprio. There is even room for Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachan to grace us with a majestic cameo. Although, the poignancy of the message is marginally lost amidst the glamour, there is real heart beneath. Gatsby’s character will divide audiences, some will embellish him a hopeless romantic, others will brand him a gangster clinging to material wealth. Such is the beauty of a well written character.