Many people have told me that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a book that is commonly read in high school. As such, they have also told me how boring the book tends to be. While I haven’t read the novel in question, I had my own set of expectations going into this movie.
The biggest thing that had me worried is the director, Baz Luhrman. He’s the guy that decided that Romeo & Juliet needed to be set in modern day with an MTV flair. He’s also the person credited for reviving the movie musical genre, although the quality of his film Moulin Rouge is a polarizing topic that is still up for debate.
So you take a book the scholar regards as a classic while the layman calls it a bore, give it to a director that can give interesting visuals but a weak story, have it produced by Jay Z and it’s all up in the air from there.
The film stars Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, a Yale graduate who moves to New York to get into the stock market. He’s quickly pulled into the lavish world of Jay Gatsby, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Over time, that lavish life lived by Gatsby is revealed to one filled with obsession and madness. Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton and Elizabeth Debicki round out the top-billed cast.
The first thing I immediately noticed was the use of anachronistic music, particularly hip hop music.
I found it to be a tad off-putting because the story is supposed to be set in the 1920’s, so the music didn’t really set the mood as much as it distracted from the experience.
The second thing I noticed was the fast-paced editing of the early parts of the film. It was cut like a trailer and made the early parts of the story feel incredibly rushed. Couple that with what felt like an argument of whether or not to rely on the voice-over, and you have what I’d like to call a painful first act.
The editing begins to slow down later, almost to the point where it starts to make the film feel long, slow and ultimately boring. It’s not helped when the pacing, staging and even the blocking of certain scenes make it feel padded for time.
The only compliments I can give is that it has a decent visual aesthetic when it comes to set and costume design, partially marred by certain scenes where Luhrman thinks he’s being poetic, but is instead coming across as pretentious.
The performances of the actors are also pretty good, but it’s hampered by the screenplay’s reliance on direct quotation from the book. I understand that there are many key lines from the book that convey the overarching themes, but if I wanted a dramatic reading of The Great Gatsby, I’d buy a dramatized audiobook.
Overall, the movie has some elements going for it, but it’s not worth the full ticket price. If you’re a fan of the book, you’ll probably get some enjoyment out of it. If you’re someone looking for a film that’s more character-driven with an emphasis on dialogue, there are much better choices available. On my personal scale, I give The Great Gatsby a 3/5.