Review: ‘The Great Gatsby’ (2013)

The Great Gatsby poster

The Great Gatsby | Baz Luhrmann | May 10, 2013

I didn’t expect much from The Great Gatsby. Although the film seemed to be headed in the right direction with some solid casting, it had been somewhat of a rocky road for the most modern adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most legendary 1925 novel. The first troubling sign for the film was its release date getting pushed back from last December to this May. A delay in a film’s release date is never a promising sign, especially after so many people were skeptical of the film to begin with. Director Baz Luhrmann’s bombastic directing style registered many doubts from those who hold the book (and/or the 1974 adaptation) to high esteem, making many including myself worrisome of what the final product would be.

With book adaptations, it may help to realistically curve your expectations. Things that you create in your imagination may receive different treatment based on that director’s vision, and if the dots don’t connect in the same way that you expect it to, how could you possibly enjoy it? While Luhrmann struggles at time with creating his own version of the novel, he has a good enough handle on the source material to give it a very enjoyable modern spin.

You should know the story of the great Jay Gatsby to the point where no plot explanation is necessary. What I will tell you is that 3D is the way to see the film, as Luhrmann actually uses it to add some depth to this spectacular world. The visuals are simply stunning at times, and this 1920’s world becomes as vibrant as can be. The extravagant nature of visuals is both a strength and weakness of the film. Sometimes Luhrmann goes a bit overboard such as in some early scenes of the film, but when he gets it right, it’s marvelous to watch. The use of modern music is something you’re likely to love or hate. At first glance, using hip-hop in a film set in the ’20’s does seem questionable, but it actually finds a way to work with the excessive golden world that Baz showcases with glee.

The Great Gatsby still - Gatsby and Daisy

Leonardo DiCaprio was born ready to play Jay Gatsby. He brings all the wondrous life and awe into the role that made the character so fascinating to begin with. It’s his show, and he brings a masterful performance that solidifies him as one of the best actors our generation has to offer. The strengths of the film revolve around his performance which is the heart and soul of the film. He sells the extravagance that Gatsby has to offer but also reaches deep down with passionate heartbreak as he tries to re-connect with Daisy, his long-lost love.

Daisy is played by Carey Mulligan who is good enough, but her performance could have left more of an impression on me. Surprisingly Tobey Maguire is the surprise scene-stealer who gives one of his better performances as of late as Gatsby’s only true friend, Nick Carraway. I had my doubts about how Maguire would do, but he proved me dead wrong. Joel Edgerton powers through as the loathsome Tom Buchanan, and the Australian newcomer Elizabeth Debicki does a wonderful job as Jordan Baker. Isla Fisher also does well with her minor screen time as Tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson.

There are some times where the overabundance of excess in the hands of Luhrmann was too much for me to handle. The use of hip-hop is something you have to get over, but there is just time it didn’t work and was cringe-worthy. But around the 2nd half of the film, Luhrmann finds his groove and once he does it’s smooth sailing for the film. The major themes and moments of the book are actually handled pretty well in a unique but appropriately familiar style. At the heart of the film are the performances from the cast who re-create these characters in an enjoyable light.

This 2013 version of The Great Gatsby isn’t perfect, and it’s naturally going to be dismissed by a lot of people just because of what it is. Can you imagine how tough it is to re-create one of the most beloved pieces of fiction of all time? Especially to stay true to the book, to keep its artistic merit, while also giving it it’s own modern feel. With all of this in mind, Luhrmann did it justice. I think people want to dislike the movie more for what it is rather than how it is. Once people give it some time to breathe on its own, people will see it for what it is: A flashy yet faithful adaptation of The Great Gatsby that damn well entertains.

Rating: 7.0/10

The Great Gatsby can be found on Amazon.