The Great Gatsby is the most famous American classic and is close to many readers’ hearts. A film adaptation of such a popular book is always going to be risky. There have of course been previous adaptations, including a silent film (now lost) released the year after the novel was first published. Apparently the Fitzgeralds hated this adaptation. I like to think they would have enjoyed the newest one.
Directed by Baz Luhrmann, the 2013 film is utterly dazzling, the settings and parties a lot more opulent than I envisaged in the book. The costumes, make-up and set design are gorgeous. I couldn’t help feeling that this visual brilliance dominated the film at the expense of the storytelling. The narrative is from Nick Carraway’s perspective, writing this very book and talking to a therapist about Gatsby while in a sanatorium. I thought this was all right but it tended to break the story up a little. Surprisingly, most of the narration is lifted straight from the novel, with a little extra to fill in some explanations (for example, Daisy Buchanan crying over the beautiful shirts). Many of the scenes are extremely short and this results in a fast-paced, almost giddy feel to the film which reflects the characters’ lifestyles and our perception of 1920s America.
The characterisation is spot-on. Tobey Maguire makes an excellent Nick (and reminded me a little of his Peter Parker act in the Spiderman films), Leonardo DiCaprio the smiling and mysterious Gatsby, Joel Edgerton as the unlikeable jealous Tom Buchanan. I like Carey Mulligan as Daisy, although she’s somehow not as sparky as the book character and will probably divide opinion. The sporty and cynical Jordan Baker, probably my favourite character in the book, is perfectly played by Elizabeth Debicki. However, her role is not as significant as in the book. I would have liked more of her.
I found the hip hop soundtrack quite strange. Mixing the music of our era with the 1920s setting just doesn’t work for me. There should have been more jazz. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is also used, which is contemporary with the times although it was released two years after the year in which the story takes place.
If you never got around to reading the book, then watching this film is a good enough substitute.
Low-resolution film poster sourced from Wikipedia.