Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Cinematographer: Simon Duggan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Kate Mulvany, Joel Edgerton,
Where style meets substance
If there is one thing that Gatsby makes evident, it is that it owes most of its acclaim to the brilliant source material. The Great Gatsby proves to be as dramatic, tense, and memorable as an American classic should be. While many define its accomplishments differently, I personally appreciate how masterfully a story is told through the perspective of a simple bystander; the story is about Mr. Jay Gatsby, but the plot follows Nick Carraway. Simply recreating the perspective in an entertaining and respectable manner was a feat in itself, in regards to the film adaptation.
Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann’s contemporary 2013 blockbuster, follows Nick Carraway, a newcomer to New York. He lives beside a mysterious man who’s wealth shadows his own tenfold. After attending one of his neighbour’s grand weekly parties, Nick finally meets this mysterious figure, who turns out to be a vulnerable and sensitive man looking for his lost love. Once he meets Jay Gatsby, however, his life is turned upside-down. The level of detail that the film presents, in order to portray this, is staggering. At one point, in the initial company of Gatsby, Nick drives by a car of young and wealthy black men and women being driven by their white chauffeur. Considering the racial undertones explored in both the novel and the film, this is one of many examples of a symbolic reading of The Great Gatsby. The film is, thankfully, littered with significance. Each character doesn’t just fulfill the role required for the forward progression of the plot, but contributes to the film’s endless interpretations.
As a blockbuster in the most popular visual medium, however, Gatsby stumbles almost as much as it succeeds. The presentation of the film is absolutely critical to judging its merits, considering that its textual content is predictably satisfying. While Gatsby maintains its visual identity almost thoroughly throughout the course of the film, the few moments that broke away from the established style were the most compelling. Gatsby, purposely, has many bloomed colours. Characters pop out from their fabricated backdrops, and the screen is cluttered with surreal lighting. When it works, Gatsby composes a shot that will not soon be forgotten. When it doesn’t, the results are fairly disappointing. The iconic green light, for example, is visualizes in a way that identified more with the second act of A Series of Unfortunate Events than The Great Gatsby. The high-speed car rides bare a striking resemblance to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, with the car’s yellow paint contrasting the rest of the mise-en-scène. With that said, it becomes fairly easy to get lost in its presentation. When the film looks its best, while accompanied by a bold but fitting soundtrack, it fully realizes the potential that was evident in its debut trailer.
A story so rich in content and context steers Gatsby away from its undeniable style-over-substance approach. If you are familiar with the story of the novel, you have experienced the film’s most appealing side. Knowing that, if you are still interested in the artistic flair, as well as a few memorable performances, Gatsby is a worthwhile adaptation. Ultimately, Gatsby is a success, despite some noticeable visual shortcomings, and you’d be a beautiful little fool to let this film pass you by.