Thursday, May 16, 2013

Film Review: The Great Gatsby

Grade: B+

It has been said that Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is a case of style over substance. If this is true it is either by deliberate design or is completely appropriate nonetheless. The film, like the title character, is flashy, mysterious, magnificent, and grand. Like Gatsby himself the film shows off to conceal what is in reality much simpler than what meets the eye. There may be a case of style over substance, a sort of magnificent hollowness, but intentioned or not it feels like the perfect fit for Fitzgerald’s work and confirms that Baz Luhrmann was meant for the material.

From the outset Gatsby seems fit for Luhrmann. Having made his name on pageantry and pomp with films like Moulin Rouge and Rome + Juliet, the glitzy, fabulous world of Gatsby is as fantastic, extravagant, and explosive as the director’s reputation would suggest. From the stunning, other worldly portrayal of New York City to Gatsby’s wild and unbelievable parties, the film’s visuals are coursing with an unrestrained glamour and animation which borders on surrealism. This in part serves to present the roaring twenties in all their hyperbole. The visuals in Gatsby, as equally striking as even the best science fiction or fantasy, seem to ask if this time was really as we remember it and if this world of indulgence ever even really existed. The Great Gatsby moves like a dream across the screen, never feeling fully grounded or surefooted but always with the hint of a greater depth.

Much has been made of the soundtrack, which was produced by rap/hip-hop mogul superstar Sean “Jay-Z” Carter. Popular contemporary music has been a signature of Luhrmann’s movies and Gatsby is undoubtedly the most dramatic example of this staple. Visuals of twenties era America, in both its splendidness and horror, are accompanied by the distinctly twenty-first century sounds of Jay-Z himself as well as other modern artists such as Beyonce and Jack White. The effect can be overstated and is sure to be controversial but ultimately succeeds in shaping an identity for the film.

All of this overblown artistry may have fallen flat if it wasn’t supported by some truly amazing performances from an all star cast composed of Tobey Maguire,  Carey Mulligan, and Lenoardo Dicaprio. Dicaprio and Maguire are both in full stride and it can be argued that the film represents a new peak for both of the decorated actors. There is a sincere and palatable chemistry between the two and every scene featuring them both is a high mark of the movie. Dicaprio is every bit the charismatic enigma that Gatsby is imagined to be while Maguire’s trademark softness and sensitivity is perfectly suited to the real lead character of the story Nick Carraway.

The Great Gatsby is an unabashedly ambitious film and always soars towards monumental heights even when it doesn’t always quite reach them. Some may not connect with the severe visual emphasis and boldly creative artistically intense direction. Many may have wished for something more understated and otherwise typical of what one would expect from a great work of literature from the twenties based on the period. Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby was born as a divisive, unusual, and passionately expressive effort from a militantly individual perspective. It is already shaping up to be one of those works of art you either love or hate, with not  a lot of potential for middle ground. That is often the mark of a great work of art and while, again like the title character himself, The Great Gatsby doesn’t always achieve its sky high ambitions it at least always stays comfortably off the ground and in the clouds for trying. 

Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk/Page