Amy Davies - May 23rd, 2013
It would be very hard to miss the fact that Baz Luhrman’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby has hit cinemas this month. With Luhrman’s trademark flamboyance, fast-moving camera work and explosions of colour, the new film has been polarising the critics. So Becca, from our marketing team, went to see what all the fuss was about and report back for us.
I arrived to see The Great Gatsby in a bit of state, stressed and shaken from a horrific drive on account of a road closure, a satnav with the inability to maintain a GPS signal and misleading diversions. I felt extremely aware of my 21st century life, with its ugly, characterless cars and hopeless economic situation. But on finding my seat, I was immediately thrown into a 1920’s blur of colour and sound, sucked straight into Baz Luhrmann’s vivid interpretation of a beloved and classic novel; The Great Gatsby.
Everything in Luhrmann’s version is extravagant and excessive, from the exquisite jewelled dresses to the over polished cars in an electric array of colours. With looser morals, bootlegged liquor and the echo of jazz reverberating across a hazy New York, Luhrmann artistically depicts the economic swelling of the roaring twenties.
The way in which the film is shot is phenomenal, the camera angles and saturated colour breathe new life into Fitzgerald’s defining novel. It is punchy, fast paced and flashy; each shot pristine and crisp. It is a feast for the eyes, a no-expenses-spared spectacle and a mesmerising show. And as Jordon Baker, (played by the enchanting Elizabeth Debicki) utters the words ‘It takes your breath away, doesn’t it?’ I couldn’t help but nod in agreement, because it does. And isn’t that what entertainment should do? Surely, that’s what cinema is all about?
In fact, The Great Gatsby is the first film I have seen for a long time during which the audience remained completely silent. There was no rustling of popcorn, no slurping of jumbo sized drinks and there was certainly no talking whatsoever. We were all absorbed and hypnotised by the gorgeous extravaganza before our eyes. Finding ourselves enveloped in an enchanting, layered world, traversing amongst ‘…the whisperings and the champagne and the stars’. The brightest star of them all, being Gatsby. Leonardo Dicaprio’s performance was stunning. His ability to combine Gatsby’s sweet, almost childlike, fear of rejection, with his delusional hope and desire to prove himself worthy of the girl with the ‘…voice full of money’, was outstanding. He captured the very spirit of Gatsby wonderfully, knee deep in corruption but charming and unassuming nonetheless; the American dream gone awry. And this emotional execution made the tragedy of the popular story all the more tragic.
Carey Mulligan’s performance was exquisite and with her soft tone and doe eyes it is easy to see why she was an obvious choice for the role of Daisy. Mulligan plays the conflicted female brilliantly, obviously torn between an age-old and newly-made wealth, unable to reject her present comforts with the brutish Tom for a retreat back into the past with a man she loved five long years ago.
Luhrmann uses Nick Carraway in the same way Fitzgerald does, as a literary device through which the story so effortlessly unfolds, providing the film with a tight textual focus. The words of the novel appear on the screen at various points, adding another dimension to the immortal words of Fitzgerald; especially when seen in 3D. It is an incredibly layered novel and Luhrmann has created a layered cinematic prose to reflect this; using modern techniques to build an onscreen depth that originally only the novel could convey.
However, Tobey Maguire’s performance was mediocre. He was not the Nick Carraway I envisioned. He was too jovial for my liking and simultaneously awkward; seeming bewildered for the duration of the film when I imagined him to be a much stronger character. This role would have been the making of some unknown actor; it could have been the break Leonardo got in Romeo and Juliet. But instead Nick Carraway is slightly tarnished by visions of Spiderman. Admittedly, Maguire was endearing at some points, the elements of humour he brought to the screen his one redeeming quality.
Despite the visual decadence and the unfathomable costume budget, The Great Gatsby is perhaps most beautiful and poignant when the parties are packed away, when the ‘pyramid of pulpless halves’ are stacked up by Gatsby’s door. It is in these quiet scenes that the haunting sadness and yearning behind the lavish bravado is clear to see. The effects are abandoned in the heated Hotel room scene, the opulence left in the lobby. No brassy music or glitter cannons are needed, just a great deal of tension and five actors simply acting. The result is immensely effective, as Fitzgerald’s writing is given the undivided attention it deserves in the most pivotal scene. And Luhrmann’s ingenious addition of Gatsby’s explosive anger reveals him to be quite human underneath that cool pink suit.
Luhrmann is an outstanding director and he has done for The Great Gatsby what he did for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. He has captured the essence of the book with his quirky cinematography, drawing on the grandeur of the period, using the original text as the script and setting this intriguing and heart-breaking story of expectation, against an eclectic and edgy musical backdrop. The soundtrack is incredible, enriching the story in an astonishing way. The frenetic scenes and iconic sounds of Jay-Z, Lana Del Ray, Florence + The Machine, will.i.am, Gotye, The xx and Emile Sande (to name a few), complement each other creating the illusion of an illicit underground speakeasy. Luhrmann, with his ear for music injects a haunting and memorable soundtrack, making the film a multi-sensory experience with its dangerous, exciting and glamorous vibe, putting a modern spin on Fitzgerald’s jazz age.
I cannot fault this brilliant adaption of a timeless novel. It is without doubt the best film I have seen this year. In fact I’m half tempted to go and see it again this weekend but purchasing the incredible soundtrack and watching the trailer on repeat will have to suffice until then!
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