Brief: The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
I fully admit that The Great Gatsby may be unadaptable. The magic of the book (and it's one of my favorites) comes from Fitzgerald's gorgeous, insightful prose, and try as this movie might, it just can't translate the magic from page to screen (and boy, does it try, even actually putting text on the screen on several occasions). I will also freely cop to my bias against Baz Luhrmann, a director who dials all of the visuals up to 11 because he doesn't really seem to understand how people work, or what a story means to a movie beyond the connective tissue between big, garish party scenes.

Garish is the word to describe this movie, but I knew that going in. I hoped Luhrmann would utilize his own directorial weaknesses and turn them into strengths by exhibiting the emptiness of the Jazz Age parties Gatsby throws. But no; Luhrmann seems as lost in these scenes as one of Gatsby's throng of guests, and as oblivious to the true purpose behind them. I also hoped that his penchant for anachronistic soundtrack choices might pay off with the help of Jay-Z, who turned in a pretty solid (if often over-obvious) soundtrack. Yet Luhrmann seems to have no idea what to do with the music he's been given. It pops up and fades almost because he realized he hadn't used a certain song yet, absent any consideration of whether it fits within the scene, or whether it works emotionally with the material he is portraying. Basically, Baz appears to be as tone deaf as he is color-blind (I'm assuming that's why everything he shoots is so oversaturated).

My final hope for a solid adaptation lay in the cast, which is uniformly well suited to the task. The film's biggest surprise for me came in the form of Carrie Mulligan, who gives a stellar performance in a role I thought it would be impossible for her to play. Mulligan is an exceptional actress, but a woman of depth and presence in most of her roles, to the point where I worried she wouldn't be able to play someone as vapid and ultimately empty as Daisy. But she pulls it off and then some, perhaps even outdoing Mia Farrow from the Robert Redford version. The rest of the cast is good, even very good, but tends toward the sort of over-the-top melodrama Luhrmann brings out in performers. Leo is great in quiet moments (though he really needs to cool it on the accents for a bit), but feels too stage-y in his explosive scenes (an odd choice seeing as these are the few moments Gatsby is not acting), and Joel Edgerton is a solid Tom Buchanan, milking his big scene for a lot, but also laying it on thick. Ultimately, this is a film with most of the flaws I worried it might have, and an almost conscious disregard for the strengths I hoped it would utilize.

Read more of Jordan's Film Criticism here
comments powered by Disqus