Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013)

I love F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel and I was really excited when I heard that Baz Luhrmann was doing an adaptation of it. I'm a big fan of his and I've loved all of his films apart from Australia. I do realise that Luhrmann is one of those "love him or hate him" directors and I can understand why some wouldn't like his over-the-top style - but I personally find his films unique, vibrant and entertaining. The Great Gatsby is now my favourite Luhrmann film and I'm really saddened by this film's mixed reviews. The film has done well at the box office but it currently has a 51% "rotten" rating on and some of its reviews have been really harsh. The general consensus seems to be that there's far too much spectacle, that the messages and themes of the book are lost, and that it's lacking in the heart and passion of the book. To which I say "what the heck is wrong with you people?!"

Over the past year I've been feeling some frustration with film critics. This started with the reception of The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey. Even though I'm not sure if the decision to split Tolkien's book into three parts will ultimately pay off, I was delighted with that film and was completely pulled back into Middle-earth again. Yet a lot of critics complained that the film's first act was too slow. You hypocrites! Critics are always complaining about blockbusters never having enough character development - but when a blockbuster finally comes out which actually devotes quite a bit of time into establishing the characters' personalities and the reason for their adventure they moan that the film is too slow! It's especially unfair because The Avengers actually devoted quite a bit of time to character development at the start as well and just look at that film's rotten tomatoes rating. It actually makes me really angry that the freakin' Fast & Furious 6 has picked up a higher rating than The Great GatsbyLes Miserables and The Hobbit! Have I gone off-topic? Anyway, back to The Great Gatsby. I completely disagree with those who are saying that the themes and messages the book are lost underneath all the glitz and glamour. Of course Fitzgerald presented them better but Luhrmann still does a great job and the film is full of emotion. Yes there is quite a lot of spectacle in the film's first half-hour. It's loud, lavish, flamboyant, full of excitement, colourful, and over-the-top. But that's only fitting. It's not like the roaring 20s didn't have any glitz and glamour and the film is just showing us the world these characters are living in. However once Gatsby is introduced the film calms down and Luhrmann shows a lot more restraint than you might think.

The film is very faithful to its source material too. Much of the dialogue is taken directly from the book and there are only a few minor changes. One of these changes is that the film makes use of a framing device. At the start of the film the book's narrator Nick Carraway is in a mental institution after falling into depression after Gatsby's death. He tries to talk about Gatsby to his psychiatrist but he has trouble articulating his thoughts. The psychiatrist then suggests that Nick should write it all down in a journal since writing brings him comfort. The rest of the film then goes back to 1922 with voiceovers from Nick. The film also gives a bit more focus on Gatsby's shady business dealings. We get a few flashbacks of Gatsby's relationship with Daisy when he was still a soldier. Nick's relationship with Jordan is almost completely removed too. I think some might not like that particular change but it didn't bother me. I thought all of the changes actually worked really well and made sense.

The acting in The Great Gatsby is also stunning. Leonardo DiCaprio is one of my favourite actors and he gives a tremendous performance. He was surely born to play Gatsby! Gatsby's hopeful and romantic side, his determination, his passion... it's all there in DiCaprio's performance. He gives a deeply moving and beautifully-acted performance in this film. As Gatsby he's also full of charisma and very likeable. I completely believed in his love for Daisy and DiCaprio definitely had chemistry with Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire. Some critics have said that it's obvious that DiCaprio is acting at times but that's completely missing the point. Gatsby is a fraud and is never really comfortable in his own skin so of course DiCaprio has got to play him as self-conscious and obviously acting at times. It just shows how much he understands the character. I was dreading Gatsby's death scene in this film and when it finally came it broke my heart. DiCaprio gives a flawless performance in this film and he is the Gatsby of the novel brought to life. He even looks great in suits! Someone give that man a damn Oscar already! Carey Mulligan gave an amazing performance as Daisy Buchanan in this film as well and she's becoming one of my favourite actresses. Numerous other Hollywood actresses auditioned for this role including Keira Knightley, Rebecca Hall, Amanda Seyfried, Blake Lively, Abbie Cornish, Michelle Williams and Scarlett Johansson. But Mulligan won the role and I can definitely see why. Carey Mulligan is fantastic in this film and she even makes Daisy slightly more sympathetic. They don't make any changes to her character and they still make it clear that she's shallow and horribly selfish - but unlike her book counterpart I didn't want to inflict physical harm on her at any point. The scene where Daisy cries on the morning of her wedding is actually quite moving which is a huge achievement given how much I despise Book Daisy. Mulligan is beautiful, she nails the accent, and she gives Daisy a very young and innocent air. I could see why Gatsby fell in love with her. I'm really pleased that Mulligan's film career has taken off so well even though that makes it increasingly unlikely that she'll ever play Sally Sparrow again. Even Tobey Maguire was really good in this film too. I've never been a Tobey Maguire fan and I always found him really irritating in his Spiderman films but he was actually really good in this film. Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher and the up-and-coming Australian actress Elizabeth Debecki all gave really good performances as well.

Another thing that I really loved about this film was its soundtrack. A lot of the music in this film is very modern and isn't generally like the sort of jazz music that people would have actually listened to back then. Apparently the reason why they went with this approach is because they wanted to get across how new and edgy this kind of music was back then. I didn't think I'd like modern-sounding music being in The Great Gatsby but it was incorporated into the film surprisingly well and didn't feel anywhere near as jarring as the post-punk/new wave music that was used in Marie Antoinette. Even Beyonce's cover of Back to Black - which I didn't like the first time I heard it - I liked more in context. My favourite songs in this film came from Emeli Sande and Lana del Rey. Emeli Sande does a great cover of Crazy in Love and Lana del Rey's Young and Beautiful is very haunting and lovely. I really liked that it was reprised several times throughout the film.

Finally, before I wrap up this review, I have to mention that the film has great cinematography and amazing costumes and sets. The costumes and sets in this film are absolutely gorgeous and Catherine Martin deserves to win more Oscars for them. The Great Gatsby looks stunning. Apparently the film went way over budget and the entire production almost got shut down as a result. I'm not surprised! There is some humour in this film too. I loved how hilariously awkward Gatsby is when he's at Nick's cottage and waiting for Daisy to arrive. 

I definitely recommend this film. It's faithful to the book and a beautiful adaptation. It has an all-star cast giving fantastic performances. It has stunning costumes and sets. It's still a very moving and emotional film no matter what the critics are saying. Sure this film isn't as good as the book but very, very few films are. I loved this film and I'd urge people to see it. I know that not everyone will like it but I still suggest seeing it for yourself and making up your own mind. I have only two real complaints about this film. Firstly, why did no-one dance the Charleston in this film?! My other more serious complaint is that we never see Gatsby's father attend his son's funeral. That really bothered me. But overall I loved this film. I'd love it to gain Oscar recognition but I fear the mixed reviews and the May release date have probably killed its chances (Oscar season doesn't usually start until November). Hopefully this film will turn out to be one of those films that becomes more popular over time. 

Rating: 4.5/5
Film Certificate Rating: 12A

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