The strong visuals deliver as promised in Luhrmann’s ‘The Great Gatsby’, there’s always something to look at, sometimes there’s almost too much, and it amply conveys the decadence of the time period in which the events of the film are set. There was always the worry that this element would overtake the film; that it would be as hollow and lacking in depth as the people it depicted, but this isn’t quite true. Sure it could have had a lot more emotional resonance to it, but it’s not so completely concerned with appearance and surface like many have suggested.
A big reason that this film retains something of the novel’s power is Leonardo DiCaprio’s great performance as Jay Gatsby. He manages to move through all of Gatsby’s various emotional levels and his different forms with apparent ease. He’s easily one of the true highlights of the film, alongside Joel Edgerton’s excellent portrayal of Tom Buchanan. Aside from these two, there are good performances given by other members of the cast, such as Carey Mulligan’s Daisy, but none of these stand out as being particularly memorable.
One of my biggest issues with the film was how poorly written it was. Tobey Maguire’s voice over narration rarely served any purpose as it described exactly what was happening onscreen, rarely giving any new insights, and mostly just rendering the performances a little meaningless. That’s not a criticism of Maguire himself in this film, who I thought did a good job, but of the narrative technique which absolutely would not have been used if this film wasn’t an adaptation. The unsubtle approach continued in many different forms, including the way that the film dealt with several key issues and the overbearing use of the famous green light from the novel. It’s a real shame that this wasn’t written better because then we could have had something really special here, instead of just a passable effort.
Ultimately it comes down to the fact that there has still not been a really strong adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel, and maybe there never will be. Meanwhile though, Luhrmann’s attempt, for all its flaws, is an entertaining and somewhat exciting interpretation. If you haven’t got on with the director’s experimental approaches before, then you’re unlikely to now (although it is considerably more toned down than Moulin Rouge), but it may still be worth a look in order to catch a couple of good performances and a striking reimagining of the classic novel.