BY CARRIE REIERSON
If there was ever a story that needed the loud, flashy, gaudy touch of Baz Luhrmann, The Great Gatsby is it. In this adaptation, the essence of the American classic is not only captured, but set alight in a frenzy of fireworks, gin, fast cars, and careless people. With vibrant 3D visuals and a Jay-Z infused soundtrack, writer/director Luhrmann has brought 1920s America roaring to life. The depth and attentiveness of Luhrmann has culminated in what is easily the finest film adaptation of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to date.
Luhrmann injects his version of The Great Gatsby with modern, dramatic flair. The parties pop with striking 3D visuals and pulse with the rhythms of will.i.am and Jay-Z. The 3D is incorporated into the film with great intention. It adds depth and tension and clearly wasn’t merely added as an afterthought to pop champagne corks at the audience willy-nilly.
The soundtrack was remarkably well done. It gives every party scene an extra injection of intensity, and heightens the overall drama. I’m sure plenty of people will be thrown off by the musical choices, but the movie truly wouldn’t be the same without it. It’s also an interesting parallel drawn by Luhrmann from our time to Fitzgerald’s, bridging the gap between jazz and hip-hop. And, let’s be honest, it’s just not a party without a little Lana Del Rey in the mix.
The casting of characters was simply superb. Across the board, the actors became Fitzgerald’s characters incarnate. Carey Mulligan was sublime as Daisy Buchanan and Leonardo DiCaprio played an astoundingly good Gatsby. Of course, a few small roles were filled by actors with much less talent. In particular, the actor who played Jordan Baker’s date at one of Gatsby’s parties was astoundingly bad. I don’t even want to look up his name at the risk of gracing his IMDB page with a view, and encouraging his acting career. That is the last thing I want. The only other element of the film that was anywhere near as bad as this guy was Luhrmann’s choice of a framing device.
The film opens with Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) in a sanitarium, being treated for “morbid alcoholism,” among other things. This shows us right from the get-go that his time with Gatsby took its toll. He is instructed to write as a form of therapy, and so he does. The keys of the typewriter clack away as Nick furrows his brow in concentration. While I see the logic behind using this framing device, it seemed a bit elementary. The infrequent cuts that transport us back to clichéd frames of Nick typing away at the sanitarium took me out of the film, and brought a lot of the story’s momentum to a screeching halt. I understand the need for a framing device, but I couldn’t help but feel that this one was lazily thrown together, and detracted from the overall film.
The film as a whole, in true Luhrmann fashion, is garish, loud, decadent, and glitter-filled. Spectacle is an understatement, especially in the case of Gatsby’s grand entrance. Because of the glitter factor, The Great Gatsby, like many of Luhrmann’s films, has been criticized for being all flash and no substance. This, to me, is laughable. The fact that the film’s lavish parties and party guests come across as vapid is nothing but a testament to Luhrmann’s dedication to the source material. The world of The Great Gatsby is filled with flashy, empty, distracted people. We are supposed to feel like the characters are unreal and difficult to relate to. That’s because they are, and it would be a disappointing adaptation if they weren’t.
The screenplay stays true to its source in emphasizing the spectacle of the parties, and cars, and mansions, while the underlying dissatisfaction of it all is slowly realized. The film doesn’t sacrifice heart for visual splendor. It dazzles you with parties and loud music and giant champagne bottles filled with confetti, then it switches to heartache and pain and the dismantling of dreams. Gatsby, despite his flashy, extravagant lifestyle, was never able to have the only thing he ever truly wanted. This fact, the heart of the novel, is front and center by the end of the film. Despite the heightened Luhrmann-esque spectacle at play, the depth and heart of Fitzgerald’s original work is most definitely here.