Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby

It’s fantastic.

I thought it would be, because the best reviews which have been out have been middling and non-commital, usually a good sign of a lack of conviction on the part of critic. And surely Baz Luhrmann couldn’t get this wrong? I hoped not; as Deborah Orr mused in the paper a couple of weeks ago, expectation is a high stakes game when one of your favourite directors adapts one of your favourite novels.

The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald

And an adaptation it is. Some of the film’s detractors seem to have missed the opening credits which make it abundantly clear that we are about to watch a screenplay by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, from a novel by F Scott Fitzgerald. Expecting that this would be the definitive film of the unfilmable novel could only end in disappointment. This may have been part of the problem with Jack Clayton’s film from 1974 (although Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan are forever Redford and Farrow in my mind’s eye…for the moment at least.)

Great Gatsby Robert Redford Mia Farrow

Luhrmann and Pearce have written a cogent and embraceable screenplay based on that great, great novel, where nothing much happens and one is not even very sure of what does happen (in my readings, anyway; part of the hazy charm…) They have the action narrated from the memoir being written by Nick Carraway as therapy in the sanatorium to which he has been committed; the excesses of his time with Gatsby and the crew clearly overtook him. This allows a much more linear and clear storyline than the novel, with different empahases on characters and events than Fitzgerald and indeed indeed Clayton used. The fact that Luhrmann spells out his version of Fitzgerald seems to have unsettled many; but it’s his film, and the book is still there to read. Luhrmann enlivens and colours the text in much the same way as he did with his still breathtaking William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet.

Of course, the whole thing looks brilliant (literally) with the stress on the euphoria of Gatsby’s ludicrous over-compensation rather then the ennui of the comedown from the parties. Luhrmann has again been given a great performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, in much the same way as he was honoured in R+J – this Gatsby is always waiting to tip into uncertainty and awkwardness despite his suave, mysterious exterior. Carey Mulligan is delightful as Daisy, a mixed-up kid who unexpectedly has her tilt at happiness and a chance to get away from her husband Tom, played just to the point of parody by Joel Edgerton to make Buchanan a coughed-up furball from the worst type of gutter-cat.

Craig Armstrong’s score does the reliable Craig Armstrong heart-tugging thing…

I’d not heard of Elizabeth Debicki before, but she stands out as Jordan Baker; she’s young and I can’t find out much about her, but I’m curious to see what she does after this.

Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby
Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker. Woof woof.

I watched the film in 3D and I’m still not convinced this is any more than a passing fad (it passed in the fifties as well.) The experience reminds me too much of looking at Viewmaster slides, or listening to “mono reprocessed for stereo” albums in the seventies. Next time I watch it I’ll see it in 2D, which has been good enough for everybody so far.

But I do need to see it again. Much as I have lauded nearly everything about this film, I did feel there was a change in pace in the last twenty minutes or so and my attention wandered; hopefully it was just me.

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