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Review: The Great Gatsby

May 16, 2013

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby, first published in 1925 captures the exuberant and fabulous lifestyle of the rich and famous during the Jazz Age, prior to the Great Depression. Full of detailed references to extraordinary parties and fashion we could only dream of, it was and still is a landmark in literature.

The story is set during 1922 and follows young writer, Nick Carraway as he takes a job in New York and goes to live in the exclusive village of West Egg on Long Island. Across the bay from him lives his cousin Daisy Buchanan and her very rich husband Tom, also a college acquaintance of Nick’s and next door, the mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby who holds lavish parties in his mansion. Rumours abound surrounding Gatsby’s past and as they circulate around the parties, people playing games of Chinese whispers, Carraway finds he doesn’t know what or who to believe; that is, until Gatsby invites him into his world and reveals his true intentions.

There has been four film adaptations of The Great Gatsby, going as far back as 1926 (as a silent movie) and a 1974 version with a screenplay adapted by Francis Ford Coppola; though none of these are quite as visually spectacular as this latest one, directed by Baz Luhrmann, a man who is well known for creating often surreal yet stylistic cinema experiences. Luhrmann’s previous efforts include 1996’s Romeo and Juliet and 2001’s Moulin Rouge, both of which offer a blend of controversy and manic excitement thrown at viewers in quick succession. The Great Gatsby follows the same pattern as scenes float, rather than switch from one to the other to create a deeper perspective of time and, exceeding ‘normal’ levels of decency, our eyes are assaulted by explosive yet beautiful visuals. It offers the audience an abundance of stunning costumes straight from the 1920s but with a heightened and exaggerated nod to the glamour of the decade ­­­­with a thoroughly modern injection. Similarly, the music is a fantastic blend of jazz with a twist as Jay-Z takes on the reigns and there is even a very random appearance by Alicia Keys’ super hit, Empire State of Mind. Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful, written especially for the film regularly crops up during the film’s more pressing moments and adds to the drama ten-fold.

Despite The Great Gatsby’s stunning aesthetics, one can’t help but feel as though something is missing. Whereas with Luhrmann’s previous blockbuster, Moulin Rouge, within which there is a feeling of constant euphoria and excitement, here the scenes tend to drag and the entire thing plods along at a somewhat leisurely pace. The drama too, though always evident is not felt quite so drastically as in both Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet and any empathy or sadness for the events that unfold just does not come.

The performances, with particular reference to Leonardo Dicaprio as the ill-fated Jay Gatsby are great, though I can’t help but feel a little irritated by Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway and Carey Mulligan is, as always strong but perhaps not the actress I would have liked to play Gatsby’s lover, Daisy after reading the book, Sienna Miller for instance, might have better suited the part.


Luhrmann has created an explosive adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel with visuals that I’m sure no other director could have managed in quite the same way. It suffers from being too long and drops significantly in many scenes, failing in comparison to his other films and lacking in power but it is far from being a flop. It will more than likely fair very well at next year’s Academy Awards, however I doubt it will achieve or even be nominated in more than the technical and costume categories.

Samuel Sims, Film Editor

The Great Gatsby is released in cinemas tomorrow.