The Great Gatsby – Review (Spoiler Free)

Great Gatsby Poster

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.

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60 comments

  1. Yeah, Maguire’s voice over was awful (not his fault, but still), it took a lot out of the movie for me. Whatever small shred of literary value there was in this adaptation, having a narrator spoon feed you ruins it. LOL 😯 DiCaprio was really good though, as you say.

    One day some director will do it justice, James. One day. 😉

    1. Let’s hope so Fogs! 😀
      Yep being spoon-fed in such an insulting way as this was a massive turnoff unfortunately.

  2. Natalie P · · Reply

    Lovely review 🙂 I especially like the line, “that it would be as hollow and lacking in depth as the people it depicted”.
    I’d definitely agree with you that the script did repeat itself and stumble at some points although I did like the use of Fitzgerald’s language throughout. I’m a big fan of Luhrmann, but I can understand how his style might disrupt the film for people who don’t agree.
    I feel like DiCaprio gets even better with every role I see him in these days,
    Nice review 🙂

    1. Thank you Natalie!
      Yeah I was pleased to hear Fitzgerald’s language being used as well. It would seem odd if they had decided to reject his words really!
      DiCaprio is constantly impressing me too. Such a talented actor 😀

  3. Nice review. I’m not a fan of Luhrmann and I reacted to the film differently. I felt the movie ignored the book’s message about the corruption of 20s society in exchange for the romance between Gatsby and Daisy. Only DiCaprio really fit his role, I felt the other actors were miscast. Though to be fair, like you said, there hasn’t been a good adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

    1. Thanks man! I actually felt that it picked up on that criticism more than I expected it to. Don’t get me wrong, it could have done it a lot more than it did, but I thought that it kept a certain amount there. Especially when you consider Daisy as an extension of that.
      You thought that Joel Edgerton was miscast too?

      1. I felt Edgerton’s role Tom was written in the script as sort of a Dick Tracy character. He conveyed the character well, but I wanted a different interpretation of him.

        1. Oh OK, well fair enough then. I figured that they would write him basically as Edgerton played him, and so he seemed a natural fit!

  4. The voiceover was too distracting and was clearly used as a way to reference the book directly. I still enjoyed the movie though, even as flawed as it was.

    1. Yeah I’m the same. I still enjoyed the film, even whilst recognising its flaws, and I thought that it really delivered visually and DiCaprio’s and Edgerton’s performances were pretty great.

  5. strawberrypiemovies · · Reply

    I haven’t actually seen this film yet but my sister has read the book. I however, have recently rediscovered Fitzgerald’s work. I read the Beautiful and Damned and reviewed it (http://iwasadisneykid.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/the-beautiful-and-damned-by-f-scott-fitzgerald/) and what I can tell is that Fitzgerald’s writing sometimes conveys emotional mood or feeling, and perhaps that is difficult to put across on screen. Maybe they should do an adaptation of the Beautiful and Damned but set it in the 21st century instead of the 20th? that would be interesting.

    1. Nice, I’ll go take a look in a moment! You should read The Great Gatsby, it’s his best book. Also, if you like the idea of short stories then perhaps give some of Fitzgerald’s a look. I think he often works best in that form.
      It would be very interesting to see both how somebody would approach shifting The Beautiful and Damned’s time frame, and how an audience would react to it. The problem is that Fitzgerald’s work is so very clearly of his time, that it may not work to play around with that.

      1. strawberrypiemovies · · Reply

        If they did make it into a film, then hopefully it’ll be a good director. Shifting into, say, WW2 at the earliest, would be interesting to see.

        1. It would be a really interesting challenge for the film to shift it into that time period! I don’t know that it would work, but I would be curious to see how such a shift would be tackled.

  6. Nice review mate. I’ve still not got round to see this and even though it’s had very mixed reviews, I’m still quite intrigued to see it.

    1. Cheers, it’s definitely flawed and I can understand why many have come away from it and really not enjoyed it. On the other hand, I still think that there is stuff there to enjoy. It would be interesting to hear your take on it!

  7. Good review man. I liked this film quite a bit although it has it has a few issues. I really liked all of the performances and I like how the film captures many of the points of the book. In the end it isn’t all about Gatsby. It’s an indictment on the others. I liked that.

    1. Thanks, yeah I can remember that you liked it more than most when I was reading through the first wave of reviews. I think that we are, by and large, on the same page here!

  8. I need to get around to seeing this. A lot of the reviews like yours single out the same weak aspects of the film (the narration for example). I think it boils down to Fitzgerald’s prose being non-translatable on film. Bless.

    1. It’s interesting because some of his writing is lifted straight into the film, and yet the subtle power of the green light for example is just obliterated in this film. I don’t think it’s non-translatable personally, although I can understand why you would say that, but an adaptation of Gatsby needs a stronger writing team than this one had.

      1. I think I say that just because of how the last two adaptations have been received. And they both have very different styles. I’d like to see David Lynch’s take on it just to have the green light represent something much darker and for the lols.

        1. Lynch’s Gatsby would be very interesting indeed! Haha 😀

  9. I think I pretty much agree with you on this one. I really couldn’t stand the voice-over at times, but overall I actually enjoyed it. And I did see it again in theaters and the flaws seemed less prominent than the first time. Good review!

    1. Cheers buddy! That’s interesting about the second viewing, I reckon I will see it again when it hits the shelves/rental so it’ll be interesting to see whether the same goes for me.

  10. Nice review Rumsey. It’s a great-looking movie, but nothing else really going on underneath the surface that hasn’t already been scratched already, and so well by the novel.

    1. Thank you. I agree that it’s not doing anything new under the surface, and is also failing to do what it does particularly well (especially if you’re comparing back to the novel). I still think though that it at least makes an effort to engage with bigger issues than the just the surface appearance, which is not what I expected, and which pleasantly surprised me.

  11. Saw it last week and wasn’t a fan of it. I did think all the flashiness of it took away from the story and felt quite disappointed by it.

    1. I can completely understand where you are coming from there. Have you seen much of Luhrmann’s other work? I think I went in expecting flashy visuals and so was somewhat prepared for his take on it.

      1. Yeah, I knew he does flashy and I love Moulin Rouge (just rewatched and reviewed it this week), but it didn’t work for me here.

        1. Fair enough then. I’ll head over and check out your review soon!

          1. It will be up on Wednesday.

        2. Nice, looking forward to reading it!

  12. Great review! Seeing this one (finally) in two days. Watched the 74 version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, which sucks.

    1. Thanks buddy! It would be great to hear what you think. As I’m sure you’re already aware, this one is dividing people all over the place!
      Yep, my memory of that film is hazy, but I remember really disliking it.

      1. Expect my review on Sunday or Monday! Really excited for Gatsby. Hope I like it.

        1. Awesome! I too hope you like it 😀

  13. Wonderful review! I must say I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, though!

    1. Thank you! I can see why someone would really enjoy this one, and there were certainly elements which I had fun with. Are you a fan of Luhrmann’s other films?

      1. I can’t really say that I am. I haven’t seen them for years, and they were not the worst, but not the most impressionable, though the costume design is always breathtaking. I have been thinking I should watch his other works again sometime so that I can draw distinctions between them. Gatsby had its flaws, I will not deny it, but I had tons of fun with it!

        1. I wasn’t much of a fan of Australia, but Romeo and Juliet is an interesting film and I rewatched Moulin Rouge recently and enjoyed it. I think you should rewatch them as I found it pretty interesting to compare Gatsby and Rouge the other day. I had also forgotten just how insane that film really is!

          1. I never saw Australia. Romeo + Juliet I watched when I wanted to see a more modernized look for the story, and he got aspects down (such as drawing a sword which is a gun which has sword written down the side :P). Moulin Rouge has been a while for me, I must admit, so I would like to see it again. All I remember from it was the makeup and the outfits, which were stunning. Hahaha, now look here! All you are making me want to do is hurry up and rewatch for the comparison that you made!

    2. Australia had the potential to be decent film but it is far, far too long. It’s practically two films in one.
      Oh yeah, I love how he twisted the language to fit, such as with the swords/guns!
      Haha! Well if you do go ahead and re-watch any of them then be sure to let me know what you thought!

      1. Hmmmm, I wonder if I should take the time…

        It was pretty cool, he revolutionized ALL aspects to make it what it was. I think I am going to have to watch them now, especially after this conversation!

        1. I guess it would be interesting for you to see Australia and see what you think, but it’s certainly not coming highly recommended by me!
          Awesome 😀

          1. I will have to see it then!

            Thank you so much for allowing me to pollute your pages and entertaining me!

        2. Haha no problem! Thanks for visiting so many of my pages 😀

  14. Nice review man…still haven’t seen it but it’s nice to hear some positives about it.

    1. Thanks buddy, it certainly has its flaws but there are several decent elements to it as well.

    1. Thank you very much!

    1. Thanks man, I’ll be sure to head on over and take a look!

      1. Hey, just wondering have you had chance to do the sunshine blogger award yet?

        1. No sorry, I haven’t done an award post in a while. But I do really appreciate this buddy, and I should be finding a way of thanking people soon!

  15. Great review from The Great Mr Rumsey! I have seen it yesterday evening and I totally agree with you on all your points. Need time to process though… 😀

    1. Haha thank you! I’m glad that we agree about this one 😀

  16. Maguire tried his best, but fell flat mostly.
    The sometimes awkward editing didn’t help some of the more stylish scenes. I don’t think they stayed on the same shot for more than five seconds. Just bounding from one angle to another. So hyperactive!

    I may criticise his overuse of style, but Lurhmann works best when he’s subtler. For example, there is one scene in a hotel room, after all that jazz, movement and colour, the movie just stops. There are no special effects in this scene, no dancing, no fireworks. It’s just a group of people talking, it’s almost as if you are watching a Broadway play.

    1. Oh yeah, the editing was pretty frantic, but then I expected it to be somewhat like that because of Lurhmann’s previous works. Moulin Rouge in particular.
      Yeah I too thought that that scene was interesting in its calm presentation. It’s a pity he couldn’t have shown such restraint with a few other scenes as well!

  17. soneascissorhands · · Reply

    Hello, new to your site and new ish to wordpress for about two months. I was intrigued by your movie related reviews as I love films myself. Haven’t seen The Great Gatsby as of yet but your r ight when you say its Fitzgerald’s greatest book. Love the book, so let’s hope I like the movie too. ( would appreciate it if you could take the time to check out my blog).

    1. Thank you for stopping by! I hope that you like the film, it definitely does some things well, even if it isn’t as good as I had hoped for.
      No problem, I’ll head on over shortly 🙂

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