06 June 2013

Movie Review: The Great Gatsby by Baz Luhrmann


Title: The Great Gatsby
Director(s): Baz Luhrmann
Genre(s): Classic, Drama, Romance
Rating: PG-13
Release Date (USA): May 10, 2013

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning - So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." -Nick Carraway

I think most of us, at this point, have read Fitzgerald's famous work, The Great Gatsby --- and if you haven't read it, you've at least heard about it. The Great Gatsby is one of America's greatest literary achievements, and Gatsby, one of the most iconic characters written. When you take one of the most celebrated pieces of literature and turn it into a movie, I think it's safe to say, you have some pretty big shoes to fill.

To date there have been a number of movie adaptations of Gatsby, the 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, being my favourite; so when I heard Gatsby was about to get the Baz Luhrmann treatment, I wasn't quite sure what to think. See, like the decidedly mixed reviews on this film, I share similar feelings about Luhrmann's movies in general. While I adored his modernised interpretation of Romeo + Juliet, I could barely make it through Moulin Rouge. Seeing Gatsby was a gamble for me because while there's no doublt Luhrmann has a monopoly on contemporary flare and visual excess, he also has a tendency to skim the surface, missing much of the underlying detail. So what was the end result?

His Gatsby fell somewhere in between the two.

It's hard to know where to start because my thoughts on this movie are all over the place. Though I did enjoy the theatrical experience in a visual sense, emotionally it was incredibly unfulfilling. Not exactly what you expect or want from an adaptation of one of the most hailed novels, like, ever. So yeah. But honestly, was I surprised by this? Not really. It ended up being exactly what I thought it might be: visually striking but lacking in depth and character. It all boils down to way too much focus placed on the aesthetic parts and not enough on the "meat and potatoes" of the film. Sure, there are brief sparks of something special, but overall, it lacked a lot of the heart and soul that comes from the original source material.

Luhrmann's Gatsby is imposing, in-your-face and brash which works both for and against it. This forwardness has a tendency to highlight the obvious making it lack the subtlety that makes earlier versions of the movie so much more effective. For instance, you're beaten in the face with the symbolism of the green light so much so that it feels like you're being insulted. Look Baz, the green light is important, I know, but we're not all that dense, okay? There's something to be said for leaving an air of mystery, of which this movie did none of. However, that being said, I do think he excels in creating striking cinematography which keeps you riveted to the screen. He makes you not want to look away because his world stands out from all the rest. The opulence of this movie matches the excess of the Roaring 20's to near perfection and it sets the stage well while enhancing the mood. I also really liked Luhrmann's use of contemporary music when contrasted against the vintage-inspired glitz and glamour. I know this isn't something that will please everyone, but it worked for me. It's Luhrmann's trademark and he does it well. 

That being said, good visuals aren't enough to carry a movie. I think my biggest issue was the lack of personality. Don't get me wrong, the setting had plenty of it but where it mattered, it had little to none. There was very little natural chemistry between Leo DiCaprio's Gatsby and Carey Mulligan's Daisy. They were solid individually, but not when they were together. I mean, this is the key relationship in the movie and it didn't feel real. And if I'm being real here, I wasn't vibing on Leo's take of Gatsby at all. He was too disingenuous and self-serving for my liking. If you ask me, Robert Redford pretty much has the monopoly on the multi-faceted character. He was self conscious and refined in all the right places. Leo's angry, angsty Gatsby was fitting only in bits and pieces. What I did enjoy, though, was Mulligan's Daisy. She brings a stronger, more defiant side to Daisy's otherwise flighty, dainty damsel-in-distress act. It's a refreshing twist on the character, for sure.

Another thing I noticed (and not in a good way) was how the story was told. More often than not, Nick Carraway's (Tobey Maguire) narrative was mistimed and misplaced, frequently jarring me out of the story. It made every second of the 2hr 23min running time seem that much longer. So that on top of the characters not feeling true to the characters in the book, it was hard to foster a connection to anyone of them --- and in a story that ends so tragically, you want to, no, need to be moved. I, on the other hand, couldn't care less. Baz Luhrmann's Gatsby, unfortunately, was a swing and a miss It's not that the movie is terrible, it's actually pretty enjoyable if you can take it at face value. It's got jazz in all the right places, if you know what I mean. I just happen to like prior versions better, that's all. 

And on a side note: I still think Baz Luhrmann's interpretation of Romeo + Juliet was the pinnacle of his directing career so he's definitely got that going for him because that movie is AMAZING.

Summary Prognosis
While Baz Luhrmann's signature flare worked in tandem with the rich excessiveness of the decade, his version of The Great Gatsby missed the mark in just about every other way. There were strong performances by each of the characters individually but when together, they lacked chemistry. I found caring more about the way the film looked than I did any of its characters which defeats the purpose of translating such a deep and meaningful story to the screen. This movie is all about face value in a world where there's so much more beneath the surface.

Rating: ★★★

Watch It: This movie is currently out in theatres
Discuss It: IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
View the Trailer:


  1. I've loved Baz's movie since Romeo + Juliet. I agree that it is a spectacular movie (and his best one so far). I definitely enjoyed this one more than you did, although I can definitely see your point. I love the Great Gatsby (the book) and definitely wish that more of the book's depth would have translated on to the screen. I have a tendency to get wowed by eye candy and this movie is amazing visually. It's funny, I'm on the other side of the fence as far as casting. I loved Leo as Gatsby and found Carey plain and not nearly charming enough for Daisy. I hear that Leo and Baz are trying to tackle Hamlet next, maybe going back to their Shakespeare will be exactly what's needed. Fantastic review. You can find my review of the movie here

    1. Yes, R+J was definitely his best movie so far! I'm still blown away by it, even after watching it so many times.

      As far as eye candy goes, you're absolutely right. This movie has it and more! Honestly, it's the only reason I enjoyed the film and I think had you put the '74 version to the backdrop of this one, it would've been THE perfect movie.

      Ooooh! I like the sound of the Hamlet collaboration. That's one I'll be standing in line for on opening night, I guarantee it!

  2. Ah Baz, that pesky little Aussie who doesn't always quite get it right.

    Still deciding whether to read it (yep, I'm one of those people that never have!) before I see the movie or not....definitely maybe?

    1. Yeah, I get what you mean Kat. He's a little wayward sometimes but when he's good, he's really good! Okay, so you definitely need to read it but I would recommend seeing the film first. I think you'll like it much better that way. I hate that I made it sound like I hated the film, I didn't, it just wasn't quite what I wanted. It's still good though --- worth watching, for sure!

  3. Ah, great review! At least you've managed to discern what your feelings were after seeing the film. Me, not so much. I definitely enjoyed it though - but I have to agree with you about the whole beating the audience over the head with symbolism, and sometimes over-explaining things. Having said that, I also liked that he had Nick interpret things for us - what I didn't like was that he simplified the lines as if we were stupid or something. Especially that first line!! You know, "when judging others etc." gets changed to "always believe the best in people" or something.

    But yes - the setting and costumes were GORGEOUS! That I don't think many people can argue with.

    Oh! And I LOVED the jazzified version of Crazy in Love! Worked so incredibly well.

    1. Thanks, lady! This was definitely a tough one to review because I liked it but despite all that, it still didn't hold a candle to the earlier version that I love so much or the book itself. My feelings are mixed, just like they are about Baz. But yeah, if this movie excelled at anything it was creating the perfect mood and backdrop for the story.

  4. Great review Nikki. I haven't read The Great Gatsby, but I have it on my shelves.
    I've wondered about this movie. I'm a big fan of Leo so I'll be making time to rent this one at some point. I agree, great visuals only take a film so far.
    I'm slightly jellie over Carey Mulligan, she's married to the lead singer of Mumford & Sons :P

    1. Okay, first, you need to read it but I'd suggest doing so AFTER you see this version of the movie. If you like Leo, I think you'll definitely enjoy it. Have you seen the '74 version yet? I'm interested to know what you think of it.

      OMG, I ADORE Carey Mulligan. She's so talented and classy that you almost can't be mad at her for that... ;)


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