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The Great Gatsby (2013) Review


Reviewed by David Selby

It’s been said that The Great Gatsby is the finest piece of American literature. Yet this modern take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz-age novel has divided the critics, and received a surprising amount of criticism. My question: why? After watching this film adaptation of one of my favourite ever books, I was left feeling completely satisfied – in fact, I’d go and see it again tomorrow.

It took a while for me to get into Baz Luhrmann’s directing this time, though. Some of the earlier scenes flick between shots so quickly that it feels like the camera’s been fired out of a shotgun. Along with the 3D, some of these passages can even make you feel disconcertingly giddy, and you may find yourself having to remove the glasses from time to time to stop yourself passing out. But not to worry; Luhrmann may take a while, but he soon finds his feet, and, indeed, his direction is one of the highlights of this movie. The use of on-screen text timed alongside the narration and some of the inventive flashback sequences all exhibit his creativity. An example here is a window scene in the first half of the film – I won’t spoil it, but it’s a treat to watch, and really sticks in your mind.

But it’s not just the director who deserves the credit here. Praise to Leonardo Di Caprio (who’s actually aged a lot since some of his more famous films), who once again gels with Luhrmann’s artistic decisions – also, kudos to Joel Edgerton, Carey Mulligan, Toby Maguire who gives a heartfelt narration (and performance), and to pretty much everyone else involved. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, goes the old adage. Well, it’s safe to say that The Great Gatsby succeeded from practically every department – even the music, which was unexpectedly fitting (especially Lana Del Rey’s ‘Young and Beautiful’ – a perfect theme song).

Something I particularly like is the use of the narration. Part of the genius of The Great Gatsby wasn’t the actual plot itself, but Fitzgerald’s eloquent use of the English language. I was, therefore, thrilled to see that so much of the text had been put to use, including some of my favourite quotes, which say a lot about wealth and how corrupting it is (“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made”).

And that is what’s key to the film’s success. It’s all very well for films to try and outdo the books, or shock an ostensibly knowing audience into an alternate ending, but it must be remembered where the story came from in the first place. And I finished here with that relieved contentment I ended each Harry Potter film on: knowing, reassured, that everything really was exactly how you imagined it.

But, unlike the Harry Potter series, it’s not all positive. Whilst the 3D adds an aura of magic for the most part, it has to be said that it’s still as unconvincing and fake as ever. Yes, the people do stick out from the background. But the issue is that they only stick out in the way that cardboard cut outs stick out from a child’s puppet show. There’s no real shape to them, and at times, it’s an unnecessary reminder that what we’re watching isn’t real life. Similarly, I’m still recovering from the after-effects; rubbing my sore eyes as I write this review.

And whilst the ending is just as poignant and dramatic as I’d expected, there’s sadly a missing scene. Gatsby’s father is non-existent for the final hour. This wouldn’t be a problem if he hadn’t already been mentioned earlier, and even explicitly pictured.

But overall, my criticisms really don’t affect my enjoyment. The Great Gatsby really was great, and no doubt I’ll be buying the DVD when it comes out. I can safely say that this is now one of my favourite films, and by far the best book adaptation I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Verdict: 9/10

  • EternalDoctor

    Marvelous review, David! You continue to deliver great reviews/articles which make for a highly pleasurable read. I know I have made this clear on numerous occasions, but I really admire your writing.

    It’s brilliant to see this positive review contrasting the others which I have read. I adore Fitzgerald’s novel and I now have hope that this adaptation does it justice. Judging by that quote you have highlighted; they seem to have retained the deeper look at the negative qualities of wealth – something which I loved about the source material.

    Keep up the great work and I look forward to your future works.

  • John Smith

    I must now go and see this in 3D having got other people’s opinions on it and deciding against going to see it on Saturday

  • TheHitchcockWhovian

    Hate to say it, David, but I just unrelentingly despised this film. It delivered an adaption more in the spirit of the lavish anti-hero than of Fitzgerald’s critique of the excess of the era. In addition this, none of the actors left any impressionism on me, as they were lost in Luhrmann’s admittedly lavish spectacle. But that’s just it – it’s all glamour and no substance. In the quieter moments, and when Luhrmann takes a step back from his giddy swirling tracking shots, it’s quite engaging…. but that’s only when the novel gets a chance to truly shine. I’m a massive fan of the book, but this is not the Great Gatsby. Gatsby becomes an enviable figure, in a way, and that’s just completely different to how his written in the novel – that of a tragic anti-hero, focused on luxury and wealth, at the expense of the beauty in the real world. Ironically, Baz falls into this very trap. It’s great-looking, but at the expense o all the subtleties of the source novel. Beyond the admittedly captivating opening, which finishes with a firework and Gatsby smiling directly to us, there’s no real place Luhrmann can go but down, no matter how many visual techniques he tries to impress us with, it’s all a bit hollow. Also… Jay-Z? Eugh.

    (Should point out; I’m certainly not being objective here… I’ve disliked every film Luhrmann’s made).



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