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Review: The Great Gatsby

Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

If you think The Great Gatsby is another Baz Luhrmann spectacle...

...Well, you’d be right.

The Great Gatsby is flashy, over-the-top and fancy, full of the dramatic flair that Luhrmann is known for.  The difference in this movie, versus say, Australia, is that in-your-face visual storytelling suits The Great Gatsby – at least, as critics have noted, if you’re in the younger market that Luhrmann is appealing to.

The Great Gatsby follows Nicholas “Nick” Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as he recounts, from a sanatorium, the story of how he met Jay Gatsby. Trying to reconcile the “fairytale” with the truth of the man would drive anyone a bit nuts, as Gatsby is a millionaire that no one knows anything about. He’s a man that will stop at nothing to achieve his vision of himself - underneath an affable, if eccentric, exterior beats an uncompromising heart.

I admit it. I was scared. Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby? I wouldn’t have picked it in a million years and yet I shouldn’t have worried. DiCaprio pulls off a fantastic performance and manages to convey, enhance, and layer all of the emotion of the book. I would place bets on an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, as DiCaprio conveys Gatsby in all his guises superbly. My favourite point was the first meeting between Gatsby and Daisy; the first time you see a coolly unflappable Gatsby completely lose it; hilarious and the scene where, if you’ve read the book, you kind of relax and go, “okay, it’s not ruined.”

Tobey Maguire does well as Nick – he is the perfect foil to DiCaprio’s cool command of the storyline; alternately fascinated and drawn in by Gatsby’s intensity; he doesn’t overplay his role as narrator, and his repulsion as the story heads to its conclusion is on point. Given that Maguire in my opinion almost single-handedly ruined Spiderman, this is great progress.

Carey Mulligan as Daisy was good as the Girl Who Got Away – always charming and wounded and frail and enchanting – and never quite swept away in Gatsby’s grand vision. Her character is summed up by the immortal line “I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” Having Mulligan look-alike Adelaide Clemens as Catherine, Myrtle’s sister, was a nice touch by Luhrmann.

Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke as Myrtle and George Wilson leant both humour and gravitas to the storyline, and Joel Edgerton as Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan was appropriately what one might call a “wanker,” although not always as strong on this as I’d imagined the character to be, save the end scene (which, incidentally, is the best scene of violence unleashed and restrained I’ve seen in forever.) Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker, Daisy’s friend, is pitch-perfect and I’d imagine we’ll be seeing more of her very soon.

The frantic, empty flash-and-glitter of Gatsby’s parties are juxtaposed quite well with his passion for Daisy and Luhrmann puts metaphors galore throughout the movie – Tobey Maguire’s eyes watch from a giant billboard, a green light calls across an impassable expanse of water, crows frame Gatsby in one scene – one looking within, one looking without. It almost gets to the stage where you take a shot for each reference to a theme, and will definitely provide a lot of English teachers with material for years to come.

The music was entertaining enough that I’ll download the soundtrack; it has artists such as Beyoncé and, Gotye and Lana Del Rey. The track by Fergie, A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got) reached the top ten in the New Zealand charts. The only thing I would say is some of the music is too current – the film is set in the 1920’s and when you have current music playing this doesn’t help the cause of suspense of disbelief – it jars you and puts you outside of what’s happening on screen.

The costumes and sets are what you’d expect – sumptuous and gaudy, glamorous and extravagant – and, somehow, perfectly plausible. The cinematography is gorgeous and never boring.

“It was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.” Another beautiful line from the book which sums up Nick’s perception of Gatsby – hope underlies the whole movie, turning it from a flashy spectacle to a production with heart.

All in all, as a fan of the book by F. Scott Fitzgerald and now of The Great Gatsby movie, this is one I’d see again in theatres - recommended for viewing - at least once.

Who: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan

Where: In cinemas now

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