Reviewed by Aaron Kreuter
The Great Gatsby, the new film by Australian director Baz Luhrmann, is one of the most anticipated literary adaptations of the year. Luhrmann’s colourful, overloaded style seems the perfect visual match for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous novel, filled as it is with the glamour, glitz, and overabundance of the roaring twenties. Fans of Luhrmann’s other adaptation of an English-language classic — 1996’s Romeo + Juliet — will not be disappointed. And for those who want to see the story of Nick Carraway, Daisy Buchanan, and Jay Gatsby played out against a lavish backdrop of swirling, boozy parties, the camera zooming all over Long Island and Manhattan, set to a soundtrack of historical tunes and contemporary hip-hop, this is the movie for you.
Tobey Maguire plays the film’s narrator and protagonist, Nick Carraway, a young mid-westerner with hopes of making money off the stock market as a bonds salesman. Nick moves to the East and rents a small cottage in the newly affluent Long Island suburb of West Egg, where he will meet Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), the exceedingly rich, party-throwing, secret-keeping character who gives the movie its title. Carey Mulligan is perfectly suited to Daisy Buchanan, Nick’s second cousin and Gatsby’s lost love, and Joel Edgerton steals every scene he is in as Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan, the polo-playing, old-moneyed aristocrat and adulterer. The whole cast embodies the language and the extravagance, as well as the underlying longing and fear, that the novel so brilliantly captures.
Luhrmann does a great job of bringing the opulence and exuberance of the Jazz Age to modern viewers, and it is interesting to see how the movie visualizes some of the more metaphoric and symbolic elements of the novel: the floating curtains of Daisy and Tom’s drawing room; the green light of Daisy’s dock that Gatsby is constantly yearning for; and, of course, Dr. Eckler’s dilapidated eyeglasses watching over the whole story, perhaps passing judgment, perhaps not.
For the most part a fun, colourful, and well-acted adaptation of an American classic, the movie does have its flaws. The framing device, where an older, apparently now-alcoholic Nick starts writing his story as part of his treatment at a sanatorium is a complete narrative misstep, adding nothing to the story and putting an unneeded layer in between the viewer and the characters. And, as in any adaptation, there is what’s left out. The most striking omissions are Nick and Jordan Baker’s novel-long affair, which is downplayed in the movie to the point of non-existence, and Gatsby’s father, whose appearance deepened our understanding of Gatsby’s past and his reinvention.
Even with these shortfalls, the movie is still a terrific example of what a thoughtful, playful, and overall loyal adaptation of a novel can be.