The Great Gatsby – A movie review

It is impossible for me to review the movie outside the context of the novel. So I won’t try.

The Great Gatsby is a new movie by director Baz Luhrmann. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio (Jay Gatsby), Carey Mulligan (Daisy Buchannan), Joel Edgerton (Tom Buchannan) and Tobey Maguire (Nick Carraway).

Nick is new to New York. He rents a small cottage on Long Island next to the mansion of Jay Gatsby. At first his only friends are his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom. He discovers that Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher). Meanwhile he is drawn into a different circle when invited to a party at Gatsby’s. Gatsby sets out to befriend him. It turns out that there is nothing to chance and the two groups are drawn together until there is eventual tragedy.

The novel is a classic taught is high schools. It is short, only nine chapters, but beyond a story of love, betrayal, cruelty and hope it is filled with the sort of themes that English teachers love to make students write essays about. Hmm. A partial list: new money vs. old, untenable hopes, the draw of the past, community, appearances vs. reality, fidelity and infidelity, judgments, and more. It has strong visuals that are representative of themes: a green light and a large billboard in particular, but also the mansions, skyscrapers, ash heaps and more. Finally it now serves as a crucial look back into part of the culture of the 1920s.

It is amazing what it accomplishes in its length. It is dense, but the language is mostly simple (although having a dictionary near for words like fractious is handy).

The ending paragraphs and the final sentence, in particular, are near unparalleled in literature.

Luhrmann is known for the spectacle of his movies. He did the flamboyant Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge. He also prefers tragedies. As such Gatsby is right in his wheelhouse. In particular the wild parties attended by Nick are vibrant and exciting. The movie seems less sure in the middle of the book and I think it botches the ending. The climax of the book is in chapter 7 and, I think, the strongest parts are its resolution in chapters 8 and 9. But this is a movie and as such after the climax it doesn’t run for as long as the book. It ties up its plots as quickly as possible and finishes. That is unfortunate.

The other big change is with Nick. Nick Carraway narrates the novel. In the movie, it abridges all parts of Nick’s story not directly related to Jay, Tom and Daisy. They also change his backstory and and an new addendum. I can see the reasons, but it removes the depth of the source material. I’m also not a fan of Maguire.

The movie doesn’t cover all the themes of the book, but it hammers home the ones it does. Likely someone’s favorites are missing, but I think it succeeds here.

Other than Maguire I think the performances were good. I’m a fan of Mulligan (from Drive) and DiCaprio (from lots of stuff). I think both are effective. Edgerton is also good as an absolute ass. Jason Clarke also has a small, but crucial role and pulls it off well.

The movie doesn’t use period music, but modern music or remixes of older tunes. I quite liked that as well.

The movie’s strength is its spectacle. But I enjoyed it throughout. I’d recommend it. But if you are hoping for fidelity to the novel there are several other adaptations put there.

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One thought on “The Great Gatsby – A movie review

  1. Botched this review. Meant to also talk about the stunning visuals and the incorporation of the author’s words into the movie.

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