THAT Gatsby!

Okay I know I should probably wait to post this on Friday, but seeing as there have been so many negative reviews popping up left and right, I just really felt like something positive needed to be said, and fast! It's still really early and hopefully the general critical consensus could very well change because as it stands right now this film is certainly not deserving of the amount of negative criticism that it's getting. That's not to say it's a perfect film (or even a truly accessible one); in fact there were quite a few things that I wished were done differently...but that kinda had a lot to do with my own expectations of the film which we'll get into shortly. But the most important thing you need to know from someone who has read the book as recently as a few weeks ago, I can tell you that this film is a completely faithful adaptation that captures the spirit of the book....and as far as film adaptations go what more do you really want?

Well, it turned out there were still some things I wanted from it, but that had more to do with my expectations than the film's actual quality. I'll get to that, but first and foremost I want my readers to know what Gatsby does have going for it because honestly it does have a lot. This film's greatest merit is that it boasts a stellar cast that makes all these characters from the novel come to life. There's not a false note among them and honestly I could write a paragraph for each person's performance! (But I'll try and limit myself to a good sentence or so each.) Let's start with the man whose performance this whole film rides on: Leonardo DiCaprio. Leo provides us with a very layered and complex Gatsby, as he should be. Jay Gatsby is a very morally ambiguous character and Leo really makes it up to the audience whether or not they want to side with Nick in being able to say that when it came down to it, he has enough goodness to be considered generally a good  man at heart. I thought he nailed the part, and can I just say the man has never looked better? Director Baz Luhrmann sure knew how to make him look like a bona fide movie star in this film! His introduction was without a doubt one of my favorite moments in the film.

After Gatsby comes the hardest role in the film to cast: Daisy. Carey Mulligan did a fine job with the role. Her voice was exactly what I pictured and you could sense her complexities. I only wish we could have seen more scenes between her and Gatsby that I hadn't already seen from the trailers. The way their meeting was handled couldn't have been more like the book which made me incredibly happy. Another scene when she's touring Gatsby's house and seeing all his fine apparel also was masterfully done. I didn't think there would be any way for the audience to connect with that scene, but Luhrmann somehow made it work. After Daisy comes Tobey's Nick Carraway. Tobey did a great job but was probably the least like his book counterpart to me. That's not because his acting wasn't fine, it's just because Tobey is so darn dopey! But in a film that was, for the most part, humorless, his rendition of Nick Carraway worked for me. Before I move on from performances I also must mention Joel Edgerton's Tom Buchanan and newcomer Elizabeth Debicki's Jordan Baker. Both were splendid and again exactly how I pictured them. Edgerton was really very good and adds a nice menacing presence in the film; I only wish we'd seen more of Debicki's character!

Aside from the cast, the cinematography as expected is breathtaking. Like I mentioned earlier, they sure know how to film their actors and actresses. Glamor shots galore! I loved the way certain shots were overlayed, and how occasionally words would just appear on the screen as Nick was writing the tale to truly emphasize the novel's words. If it's one thing this film does, it's to truly honor Fitzgerald's words. Rarely was there a line that didn't come directly from the book and really almost all of my favorite lines made its way into the film. Along with the cinematography, the production and costume design is absolutely top notch...they certainly created a beautiful world to look at!  We saw the film in 3D, and I read an interview with Luhrmann saying why that choice was made... (that since Fitzgerald was always into the new and modern, Gatsby should come out in the newest and most modern format,) but I must admit that it didn't really add much. It didn't really bother me, but some of my companions said that it took a lot away from the movie for them. 

To fully explain where I felt let down within the movie, first I must explain where my sky high expectations came from and how they influenced my viewing of The Great Gatsby. Sometime in the last few months, I'm not sure exactly when...but I noticed the more times I saw the trailer for The Great Gatsby. the more I was enthralled with it. At first the modern music really threw me off and I just hated it. But each time I watched it I grew to appreciate that it was an incredibly well-made trailer, and the music suddenly just started working for me. Then when the next trailer after that came out...it sealed the deal that this movie I would be looking forward to more than almost any other. Even though I have loved Baz Luhrmann's previous work, I had been apprehensive about him having the job to adapt this novel....but after those trailers I embraced it and even looked forward to the touches he could bring to the work. After all, I do love Moulin Rouge! as well as his adaptation of Romeo + Juliet. So to keep my excitement alive I went ahead and rewatched the films in his "red curtain trilogy" which includes the two films I mentioned as well as Strictly Ballroom (I left out his other film Australia...because I don't know if I could ever sit through that again!) It was then I grew really comfortable with the idea of Gatsby being as stylized as possible and completely in your face. Then when I listened to the soundtrack and heard so many great songs, I became really excited to see where they'd all fit in.

I basically believed the film would be just like the trailers: full of loud music and fast editing. Then I saw the movie...and the pacing was: exactly. like. the. book. And the music? It was really only prominent in a handful of scenes. After getting to know the soundtrack so well it was kind of a bummer not to have some of the more powerful songs be more prominently displayed. Since I just had read the book, this pacing really held for little to no surprises and consequently made the movie feel pretty long. I guess I kind of wish more liberties had been taken with the source material because they gave us a very safe adaption when I was kind of expecting outrageous. But honestly these are just small gripes. I just need to see the film again to get used to what it actually is versus what I was wanting it to be. I'm still not entirely sure it will be an accessible film to the masses (compared to Iron Man 3 which required zero brain power, it's definitely kind of like sitting in listening to an English class...but in the best possible way.) Another reason I'm not sure the average Joe Schmo will take to it is because really it's kind of a dark story when you think about it....but if you loved the book, go in with your expectations in check and I think you'll enjoy it just fine. MY RATING: 8/10


Johanna said...

Well, having never read the book, will it work for me?

Emily said...

I'm really interested to know if it will. I feel like in some ways it will work better because I think the pacing won't be as tedious since you have no idea what to expect next.

Sarah said...

Great review. Have you seen the original Great Gatsby movie with Robert Redford? How would you compare the two?

Clayson said...

Well done Emily! Its funny films are usually torn apart for the liberties taken in making adaptations for the silver screen. However, this film is being criticized for being too much like the book. I guess it falls completely in line with Fitzgerald's theme, albeit unintentionally, of juxtaposition with opposites. With that theme in mind I LOVED the music. I didn't hear it before I saw the movie but I purchased it on my phone as I left the theater and have played it non-stop since. Perhaps much like the book this film will not obtain the glory it deserves until this generation has grown and can more fully appreciate its splendor. Fitzgerald was railed by critics when The Great Gatsby was released but now its standard on nearly every English class reading list.

Emily said...

Thanks for the comment Clayson! I too hope that over time it becomes much more appreciated.

And Sarah I forgot to respond to this, but I MUCH preferred the new one. The old one kinda bores me and I felt that some of the characterizations were off.