By Mark-Antonio Zivic
The “Roaring Twenties” was the age of prosperity, party, carelessness and just sheer exuberance. The popular decade is also the setting of Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s respective novel, The Great Gatsby. Throughout the years, there have been many on-screen adaptations of The Great Gatsby. In an attempt to break with conventional film versions of the novel, Australian film director Baz Luhrmann has set out to create his own interpretation of the classic novel.
One must note that the creator and the director of The Great Gatsby (2013), Baz Luhrmann was worked with the leading star Leonardo DiCaprio, prior to this film. They have both collaborated on Romeo + Juliet (1996), when DiCaprio was a mere 22 years of age. Now, they have come together again to have a go at establishing a benchmark for a Great Gatsby film.
Starting with the lead man DiCaprio, who has clearly made a great effort (as in all of his films) in personifying his respective character, should receive special praise for his performance of portraying Gatsby, however previous suggestions that this could be the film to win him an Oscar are not substantiated. Certain scenes show the audience DiCaprio’s undisputed acting talent, namely particular scenes where the camera is firmly fixed on his face and stature while delivering a beautiful line. His portrayal of the young, insecure and dreamy Gatsby is certainly a thrill to watch, however knowing how good an actor DiCaprio generally is (also being an admirer of his previous film performances), I would argue that at times I did not feel the true effects and emotions that he was trying to convey to the audience. Unlike in “Romeo + Juliet” where Romeo’s (DiCaprio) love for the girl Juliet is vividly showcased by intense facial and emotional indications, in The Great Gatsby that same yearning is not present in the actor’s portrayal. In fact, certain scenes where DiCaprio is trying to showcase Gatsby’s vulnerability, I was left not entirely convinced in the performance when it came to displaying intimate emotions.
Tobey Maguire (who actually looks like Nick Carraway in my vision of the character) does a solid job in his performance of Gatsby’s neighbor and the story’s narrator. However, just like in the case of DiCaprio, Tobey leaves me a little unconvinced. One can notice he tries to emulate the idiosyncrasies of Nick Carraway, but in the end leaves me unimpressed, as he appears to lack the talent of his real-life best friend Leonardo DiCaprio. Carey Mulligan, who personifies Gatsby’s love interest Daisy Buchanan, is a very young and inexperienced English actress. Particular scenes involve her character Daisy crying, which is intended to create an emotional atmosphere within the audience. However, for me, these characteristic scenes serve as a source of ridicule and deep scrutiny, for her sobbing and crying are rather cheap.
I would reserve more adoration for Joel Edgerton, the actor that plays Tom Buchanan. In the novel, Buchanan is a physically big, dominant, arrogant “old money” womanizer, who clearly does whatever his selfish self wants. Edgerton beautifully conveys those characteristics, by constantly making convincing facial and bodily gestures that are characteristic of an arrogant man. Edgerton does this by practicing careless laughter, lowering of eyes and narrowing his vision as a response to specific remarks made by other characters clearly showcases the arrogant nature of Tom.
For most of the film, Luhrmann tries to showcase the high tempo of the 1920s era by not creating any significant suspense in the film, but rather employs fast paced scenes that reveal all details immediately, therefore leaving nothing to the mind to ponder about and try to decode any of the subliminal details. Furthermore, I would even add that these rapid sequences perhaps left a negative effect, by not allowing sufficient time for characters to develop (at certain times), therefore specific scenes had to be slightly exaggerated in order to compensate for shortage of time. On the other hand, scenes towards the end of the film were rather long and dull, and seemed insignificant at times.
One of the main noticeable differences from the novel are visible in the initial stages of the film. Nick Carraway is writing about the story of Gatsby from an asylum or
sanitarium of some sort, whereas in the book, he mainly serves as the narrator. Fitzgerald does hint at the fact that Nick is the writer of the book, but it is not entirely clear. Luhrmann employs flash-forwards to indicate that Nick is present in the sanitarium.
Another important aspect that is not entirely present in the film is racism and anti-Semitism. The book alludes to these two elements in varying degrees, however Luhrmann thought it best to omit from the film. Tom Buchanan, does however mention in the film, the notorious book concerning the question of race “Rise of the Colored Empires”.
Luhrmann employs a great deal of contemporary 21st century music in the film that is set in the 1920s. Perhaps he wants the audience to be able to experience and better understand the restless party atmosphere, therefore using modern music for the modern audience. At times it even seems that Luhrmann has dedicated too much attention to the magnificent soundtrack and has as a result unintentionally neglected the film itself.
Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby also makes use of modern technology by employing 3D. Although employing this crafty gadget certainly enhances the visual scenes in action films, narrative films such as The Great Gatsby, in my opinion, have no need for visual effects, but rather should require astute attention from the viewer. Certainly, particular scenes benefitted from 3D, scenes that involved either a party, where people are drinking, dancing and generally “fooling around”, or scenes that involved car chases. In these specific moments 3D contributed to the overall experience. Nevertheless it puzzles me, as to what was Luhrmann’s real objective with incorporating 3D in a film of this sort.
Finally, I must give my personal verdict on the Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby. With great reluctance, I must say that I am disappointed to a certain extent with Luhrmann’s Gatsby. On the other hand, one must recognize the fact that this film was created in Luhrmann’s vision and perspective. The film is his idea of how the world of the novel is structured, therefore he has portrayed his version of the story on film. Mountain high expectations are perhaps one of the culprits for my dissatisfaction with the film. I have closely observed all of the trailers of the film that were released prior to the film, and have been captivated by what I saw and heard. The trailers showcased the film as extraordinarily exciting with the use of star-studded actors, exhilarating film sequences and most enthralling, the soundtrack. Therefore, if one were to ponder of viewing this film (the only place in Budapest screening the film in original language being MOMPark), I would suggest that one maintains low expectations, in order to avoid disappointment.