Review: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby - Credit: Archant

Films of the book rarely match up with the vision readers have in their heads and that is cast iron certainty here.While Fitzgerald's Gatsby features a few very rich people set in Long Island and New York over the summer of 1922, Baz Luhrmann's strands those characters in what looks to be series of adjoining children's pop-up books.

The abiding complaint about 3D is that, after a few minutes, you forget it is there. Here, it is never gives you a moment's peace.

Alarmingly, the film it most closely resembles is notorious British flop Absolute Beginners – it is gaudy and exuberant, everything pumped up to bursting point, filled with anachronistic flourishes and visual conceits that should be boldly beautiful yet sit just there on the screen looking sheepish and exposed. It isn't directed it's choreographed. Gatsby's enormous parties are packed to bursting and look like no fun at all. There's a horrible moment when three servants pull back three large curtains at exactly the same time and it seems as if Luhrmann is determined to squeeze any sense of life out of the movie.

But somewhere in this cacophony there is a Gatsby – not a great one but a decent one and possibly as good as could be hoped for.

Although it is frequently filmed, Fitzgerald's glorious prose doesn't offer up much to the film-maker. Lines that glide off the page clump awkwardly out of actors' mouths when turned into dialogue. The 'such beautiful shirts' line has to be included but only after the narrator Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire) has set up its significance in the voiceover.

It does have great characters and the film has the cast to do them justice. Maguire is a natural narrator – he has the face for it. Generally, the women fare less well. But unknown Elizabeth Debicki makes a great Jordan Baker – even if the role has been significantly reduced.

But it is Leonardo DiCaprio who makes it work. He is a perfect Gatsby. Often after seeing a film version, readers find themselves visualising the actors rather than the characters as described by the author. Rereading it last month, I found myself hearing every line spoken in what I imagined to be DiCaprio's interpretation.

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His Gatsby is like a fond reminiscence of JFK but with just the right amounts of deceit and menace hidden beneath that hopeful glow.

Over the last decade, DiCaprio has been the steadiest and most reliable of Hollywood leading men, but rarely exciting. Here he beats back against the current to recapture just a snatch of his fearless pre-Titanic sparkle.


Director: Baz Luhrmann

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher and Elizabeth Debicki

Length: 143 mins