There was a modest brilliance to Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s novel – that’s why he was Great.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal novel owns a subtlety that shouldn’t be compromised by adaptation. The delicacy of language in and thematic poise of The Great Gatsby endows Fitzgerald’s work with a profound cultural significance, the value of which audiences the world over has understood since its publication some 88 years ago. Jay Gatsby – his character and the historical context in which he exists – epitomises the author’s consumption and reaction to society’s extravagance; Gatsby is a millionaire bootlegger smothered by the sterling opulence of 1920s’ Jazz Age who exposes the shady distinctions between New York’s old and new money.
It is with lavish theatricality that director Baz Luhrmann tampers with, to some extent, the integrity of Fitzgerald’s classic. To that end, the novel’s refined subtlety is reconfigured into overstated vulgarity – a mess of hedonistic elitist parties, broken relationships and class feuds – at the behest of Luhrmann’s fetish for spectacle. Does Luhrmann stay true to Fitzgerald’s observations of luxury and decadent consumerism? Yes. Does he reproduce a dark milieu of corrupt pasts, confronting presents and uncertain futures? Yes. Does he do all this in line with the novel’s alluring grace? Perhaps not.
All is not completely lost, however. The director’s characterisation and undeniable cinematographic finesse – The Great Gatsby’s set and costume design is dramatic to say the least – create a filmic landscape all but suited to play host to the cracked veneer of a tragic love story. Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), his long lost love Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) and our doe-eyed narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) rescue Luhrmann’s vision by delivering semi-nuanced performances.
For a director whose work is often judged on its cinematic impressiveness, The Great Gatsby might very well be considered a triumph. But for those seeking an honest rendition of Fitzgerald’s incredibly far-reaching expose into economic prejudice and irreparable love lost, this reviewer recommends you look elsewhere.
** and a half stars out of five
BY LISA OMAGARI