Rob’s Review: The Great Gatsby

Letter Grade:

The Good:

Masterful performance from DiCaprio.
Superb visuals give the film a dream-like quality.
Gave me a much greater appreciation for the book.

The Bad:

Loses its way in the middle and meanders about for a while before picking up again.

Cast & Crew:

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Amitabh Bachchan
Rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language

If you go into Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby just looking for a happy-go-lucky interpretation of the hedonistic Roaring 20s (and the party scenes ARE wondrous), you’re going to be disappointed. If you go in with an appreciation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel then I think you’ll be very pleased.

*Photo courtesy Warner Brothers Pictures

*Photo courtesy Warner Brothers Pictures

The film opens with Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway committed to a sanitarium, diagnosed with “morbid alcoholism” and general screwed-up-in-the-headness. He had gone to New York to make his fortune on Wall Street, and over the course of a summer he grew disillusioned with everybody he had met, with the exception of one man, the great and mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).
The Great Gatsby is a fantastical tragedy. It’s a story of the love of the past and hope for the future, and the confusion of the two. It’s a story of loneliness in a crowd, and the crowded minds of the lonely. Towards the beginning Elizabeth Debicki’s Jordan Baker expressed her appreciation for large parties, saying “they’re so intimate, at small parties there isn’t any privacy,” and you see that play out over the course of the film. The fantastic large parties are where all the flash is, they’re lavish sumptuous, but they ultimately leave us observing the characters from without, it’s the slower, more somber, more tragic scenes where we really see the characters from within, where we see how comfortable Gatsby is pining for Daisy (Carey Mulligan) from afar, but how uncertain and uncomfortable he is when it comes time to actually set his plan in motion.

*Photo courtesy Warner Brothers Pictures

*Photo courtesy Warner Brothers Pictures

DiCaprio is masterful in playing out these anxieties, going from the calm, cool, collected effortless host to the uncertain, anxious suitor in moments. The actors are generally excellent all around, though I wasn’t quite sold on Maguire’s performance. His Nick Carraway had perhaps a little too much Peter Parker in it. The look of the film plays up the more fantastic aspects, it’s not even trying for a realistic look, everything is covered in a thick film of fantasy giving things a dream-like quality. And the soundtrack plays into this as well, the mix of modern hip hop and old school jazz cares more about making today’s audience feel how the characters feel than it does with actually portraying the music of the times. And that ultimately works, though it’s much less heavy-handed than Luhrmann’s earlier Moulin Rouge.


*Photo courtesy Warner Brothers Pictures

*Photo courtesy Warner Brothers Pictures

Unfortunately the film itself seems to suffer to a certain extent from the same anxiety Gatsby does. It seems eminently comfortable with the early party scenes where the Roaring 20s are vividly interpreted, if not technically recreated. It seems to revel in the anticipation. (Including the anticipation of Gatsby himself. Gatsby is introduced so well that the first time we see DiCaprio’s face it literally elicited a gasp from the group sitting down the row from me.) Once Daisy and Gatsby are reunited though, the tempo shifts suddenly. Just as Gatsby didn’t seem to know what to do once he had Daisy, the film doesn’t seem sure what to do next either.

The film does manage to pull itself out of the mire though, and as it does you’re left to admire its true depth. Fitzgerald’s novel is considered a great work of literature for a reason, and by the end of the movie that pedigree is being fully embraced. Gatsby is a man with an incorruptible dream for the future, but it is a future that never comes. It’s a future that is always in front of us as we continue to live in the past. Ultimately I can forgive the film the lull in the middle for the fantastic visuals and the serious treatment of the source material that really gave me a much greater appreciation for the work than I ever got actually reading it.

Rob Bernard (108 Posts)

Rob is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and Techie of Cinedraft. He hated Million Dollar Baby. And is really excited about the Ender’s Game movie. More About Me