Baz Luhrmann’s ‘The Great Gatsby’
Taylor Weik: I’ve been waiting for a good “Great Gatsby” revival. The 1974 version only scraped at the surface of the complexities and metaphors that make F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel so memorable, and the 2000 remake miscast Paul Rudd as the honest, unprejudiced Nick Carraway (no further explanation needed). To say that my last shred of hope relied on this adaptation is an understatement. But Baz Luhrmann didn’t let me down, sticking true to the book when it came to the cast and script.
Set in New York during the Roaring ’20s at a time when being rich meant flaunting your wealth in jewels, cars and parties, “The Great Gatsby” is told through the eyes of narrator Nick Carraway, a Midwestern war veteran who moves to New York but remains very much an outsider looking into the lives of his extravagant peers.
Luhrmann captures this luxurious essence of the new — and even differentiates between the old rich of East Egg and the more gaudy, new rich of West Egg — most evidently in costuming. A collaboration between costume designer Catherine Martin and Italian fashion designer Miuccia Prada, the costumes in “Gatsby” include chandelier dresses, feathered headpieces and flannel pants. The Buchanans and other members of East Egg don more conservative, traditional clothing: Daisy wears soft lavender and lace, Tom sticks to his rigid nature in a fitted navy double-breasted vest and suit coat.
Zachary Risinger: The extravagance of the costumes really did a good job of creating this distinction between the two Eggs. The parties and the overindulgence of Gatsby’s parties is central to creating the illusion of the American Dream, and this film handles it quite nicely. On the other hand, though, the first half of the film perhaps spent a little too much time on this part of the story in an effort to display all the craziness of Luhrmann’s film direction. It was awesome to see it all on the big screen (and I would imagine watching it in 3-D would have been even crazier), but it was more of a distraction until the core of the story comes to fruition in the second half.
TW: Jay Gatsby, on the other hand, represents West Egg in pink linen suits and showy, Brooks Brothers-esque hats. Tiffany and Co. provided the sparkling crystals and gems.
Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t just embody Jay Gatsby; he IS Jay Gatsby. With his confident, gentlemanly mannerisms and slight Midwestern accent, DiCaprio does an excellent job in holding up Gatsby’s “act” as a respectable bachelor. But at the same time, his often pensive facial expressions and the uncomfortable, vulnerable parts of his inner self that he allows to resurface every once in a while — particularly in one scene in which he meets Daisy after five years and paces the room, even running outside into the pouring rain — clearly show Gatsby as a troubled character who has a lot more depth than he lets on.
Joel Edgerton also delivers a commendable performance as Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s powerful, abusive husband. His overwhelming personality and the authority he holds over Daisy reinforces his hypocritical nature: although he’s outraged at the idea of Daisy and Gatsby together, he has no qualms about indulging in his own extramarital affairs.
ZR: The casting for this film is spot-on. DiCaprio is the perfect Gatsby, as his ability to convey the humorous undertones associated with the otherwise very serious character is balanced very well. The scene at Nick’s house where he meets Daisy again is a perfect example of this.
Tobey Maguire as Nick is also a good choice, as his ability to have a sort of boyish innocence that can switch just as easily to severe sternness serves the role well. Carey Mulligan’s role as Daisy is also a good fit, despite my own concern with Daisy’s character not being portrayed as shallow or whimsical enough for my own liking; however, her character still works within the context of the film.
TW: While the modern soundtrack strays away from the story’s setting, “The Great Gatsby” creates a fantastical representation of the 1920s and manages to express Luhrmann’s artistic style while never veering away from the classic novel’s plot.
ZR: The modern music set in the ’20s was really, really distracting for me. I mean, it’s cool and all that Jay-Z did the soundtrack, but I found myself rolling my eyes during a couple of scenes where hip-hop dominated when upbeat jazz would have been much more appropriate. The jazz renditions of modern songs like Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” worked fine, but otherwise the music was really distracting in those instances. Otherwise, I thought the score of the movie was well-done and matched the emotions of the film.
“The Great Gatsby” ends up being a film that is extremely enjoyable despite these hiccups along the way with the soundtrack and the pacing. The film really picks up and gets interesting in the second half, with the first half being mostly a self-indulgent romp of 3-D and glitz. Luhrmann stays true to the novel and the acting captures the essences of Fitzgerald’s beloved (or not-so-beloved) characters.
The American Dream of the 1920s may have died with Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s mind, but we get to experience the magic and imagination of the book through Luhrmann’s film.