The Great Gatsby (2013)

Great Gatsby

There is a saying that “All that glitters is not gold.” Such is the case with Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, a film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic which is filled with sparkling special effects and art direction, but unfortunately hollow when it comes to depicting its story in a truly meaningful way. From his previous works, I suppose it was expected that Luhrmann would present the narrative with over-the-top visual pizzazz. There is no mistaking, that his latest effort is a dazzling one, but it often fails to mine the true potential of Fitzgerald’s tale.

Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a favorite book of mine; I love the poetic, colorful language, the initial mystery surrounding the title character, the joyous parties, the bittersweet nostalgia. The novel is written, in many ways, like a film and for this reason, I have often thought that it could be well-translated to the silver screen. I have yet to see the older adaptation starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, but after experiencing Luhrmann’s version, I’m beginning to doubt the possibility of a great Gatsby film.

Screenwriters Luhrmann and Pierce might understand the source material well enough, but their screenplay is too reliant on Fitzgerald’s literary devices. Yes, quotations from the original novel can certainly strengthen a script. The main problem with this adaptation’s approach is its use of voice-over narration. While the co-writers may be telling the story the way that Fitzgerald did, film and literature are two separate arts which depict events in different ways. Constant narration and verbal description of the character’s emotions are literary devices. Films are better suited to utilize images, accompanied by minimal dialogue. There are a few moments when Luhrmann & Co. seem to forget the difference between the two forms; the most laughable example is when a character’s face is twisted in obvious fury and the narrator proceeds to explain that his expression is one of anger.

Great Gatsby

Even with the excessive visuals and narration, The Great Gatsby occasionally drags along, a relatively short novel stretched over a 143 minute runtime. This might have been easily solved by cutting down the voice-overs and party scenes, but I suspect more issues would still persist. Only a few of the performances are particularly note-worthy, though the casting is one of the film’s major strengths. Leonardo DiCaprio embodies the title role with apparent ease. He never strikes a false note, shifting from confident millionaire host to vulnerable, nervous lover more than once. Joel Edgerton turns in the film’s other great performance as Tom Buchanan, excellently portraying the character’s physical intensity described in Fitzgerald’s book.

Even though most of what I have written is negative, I was entertained and wouldn’t discourage fans of the novel from seeing it. I might even make a point of seeing it again before it leaves theaters. For those who have experienced the deeper, richer, and better form of the story, Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby might be an interesting attempt at displaying the author’s descriptive visual language in an eye-popping CGI spectacle. Unfortunately, I suspect that many who are new to the story will see little more than another Anna Karenina-like soap opera. As much as this film tries to capture the greatness of the original masterpiece, movies like this are fuel for arguing that books are usually better than their screen adaptations.


35 responses to “The Great Gatsby (2013)

  1. The trailer of this was enough to put me off I gotta say, over indulgent stuff it appears, I didn’t like Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge, but I know many love them. I did like Australia. I like how you point out the narration, I hate it when a voice-over describes only what you can already see on screen it makes the device pointless.

    • Yeah, if you’re not a fan of Luhrmann’s movies, it’s probably wise to skip this one. The voice-over does minimize the effects of many scenes, though it didn’t completely ruin the film for me. I’m not against narration, but the way they used it was indeed pointless.

  2. I saw this last Wed and will be working on my review this wknd. I think I’d agree with your rating, it’s not a stellar movie and like you said “All that glitters is not gold.” I feel that some of the emotional aspect that’s perhaps in the book (I haven’t read it yet) is lost under all that ruckus and Baz’s decidedly-excessive visual flair. That said, his style seems to suit the subject matter, even if it’s bound to be polarizing.

    • Glad you agree Ruth. I went back and forth between B- and C+, but chose the one I did because I ultimately did enjoy the film, even though it does have plenty of flaws. If it appeals to you, I strongly recommend the book, its a great and pretty quick read. Thanks!

      • I’ve been wanting to read the book forever, in fact I’ve downloaded the preview on my Kindle but I haven’t got around to it! No, I don’t know that it deserves higher than a B as there really isn’t much um, depth beneath all that glitter.

        • Sadly there isn’t much depth to the film. The movie is actually very faithful to the book’s story, it just doesn’t capture the emotions of it so well. Hope you enjoy the book when you get the chance to read it. And looking forward to reading your review of the movie.

  3. Very frank review as always Garrett, good stuff. It’s a shame the script didn’t really capture the emotions of the book, it is a classic, and the cast certainly was decent (Apart from my personal hatred of Tobey Mcguire). I have to admit, I didn’t have a lot of faith in Baz Luhrmann anyway. Fingers crossed for Wolf of Wall Street and Leo’s oscar nomination?

    • Thanks. It is a shame that the film wasn’t any better. I definitely have higher expectations for Wolf of Wall Street as well.

  4. Nice review. I know I’ll be seeing this due to my love of the novel, but the trailer really put me off and I’m not a fan of Luhrmann.

  5. Great review! I’ve been trying to make up my mind on this one; but I would have to 100% agree with you about the voice-over bit. It killed a few of the scenes it was utilized in, and as much as I usually like Tobey Maguire he began to bug me a little with that. And this is certainly another example of books typically being the superior version of a story being told; visually this is a delight but I too prefer the book. Le sigh.

  6. Good review man. I was having trouble making up my mind about this one. I was initially put off by the shallow acting and the way it seemed to simply gloss the surface of the depths of emotional appeal and drama found in the novel. At the same time this movie was clearly adapted for a younger generation; the high school of 2013 crowd more than anything. It almost seemed Nicholas Sparks-y, which is, in my opinion, a tragic comparison. There were a few redeeming qualities to it but like you said, this is yet another example of the movie being inferior to the book.

    • That’s a great point, the film does seem to have been made for a younger audience. I guess I appreciated that they tried to widen the audience, but the results are not too great. Thanks, Tom!

  7. Interesting review, it’s going to be a while until I get around to this one, but I’m really keen to find out what it’s like. Sad to hear about the flaws that you’ve mentioned, but at least there are some positives in there as well!

    • It’s certainly a mixed bag. There are plenty of flaws, but for some reason I’m actually considering seeing it again soon, so the positive aspects must have had a stronger effect on me. 🙂

    • Thanks. I’m interested to know what you’d make of it then, not having read the book. For me, reading the book helped me enjoy the film, but it also exposed just how much of a flawed movie it is.

  8. Nice review Garrett. It’s one of those instances where the style works for most part of the movie, but kills the other parts. Just wish Luhrmann found more of a cohesion with the tone.

    • The style did indeed both help and hurt the film. It is a shame that it didn’t add up to more as a whole, but I still found a way to enjoy it. Thanks!

  9. Gatsby is one of my favorite novels as well, and I’m afraid it’s one of those novels that will never please all when presented on screen. I loved the 1974 version, and I surprisingly liked Baz’s interpretation. I think it’s one of those adapted films you have to force yourself to disconnect from the novel and appreciate it separately, because there’s no comparison to the novel.

    • You’re probably right that the best way to enjoy these adaptations is to disconnect it from the book. I still need to see the 1974 one.

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  11. Great review! I’m not sure I’ll like this movie, I adore Moulin Rouge! but this one seems to be even more eccentric. I do like the soundtrack, though.

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  13. The film was entertaining enough. 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! The Great Gatsby is an enjoyable flawed experience. Lurhmann’s vision may be overwhelming and a little tiresome at times, but I still admire what he tried to do with it. It is a shame that any symbolic or larger goals get lost in the glossy extravagance.

    • I couldn’t have said it better myself. 🙂 Even with all of the flaws, I was still able to really enjoy the film, so it must have done some things right.

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