The Great Gatsby is a Riotous Explosion of Wonder – An Early Review of Baz Luhrmann’s Film

Baz Luhrmann is an easy target for critics. He takes risks and he takes them all the way. Known for his over the top imagery (Moulin Rouge), and non-traditional, bass-throbbing pop music insertions, (Romeo +Juliet), many wondered how his style would work with the subtle text of the original novel. The answer is that when it works, it is majestic and when it flops it makes you cringe and both moments can be found in Gatsby. My review contains 4 sub-categories, Imagery, Music, Performances and Overall. My attempt was to make my comments as spoiler free as possible.


·         Color-One reason that the book The Great Gatsby continues to be revered and taught is due to the layers of imagery that Fitzgerald infuses through his text. Fitzgerald uses colors on almost every page: yellow dress, white suit, blue car, and they all have an underlying significance. This isn’t lost on Luhrmann and he pushes the use of color even further adding Bakelite bangles to the wrists of Myrtle and her sister Catherine and dressing icy Jordan in earth tones and monochromes.  

·         Location– Even more gloriously rendered than I could have imagined, the homes, valley of the ashes, gas station and city were pushed to their limits while still staying true to the original text.

·         Ghosts-It was fun to see how Luhrmann hid ghostly images throughout the film. When we first meet Daisy the wafting curtains are an obvious example, as they are in the text, but there are other gems hidden throughout.

·         Windows– Circling around two famous quotes from the book, “windows contributed their share of human secrecy,” and “Life is more successfully looked at from a single window,” the film is chock full of window symbolism. Gatsby peering from a window alone, Carraway looking up into a room of debauchery where he was participating only moments before.  Some of  these worked and some were a bit heavy-handed for my taste.


·         The much ballyhooed soundtrack featuring some of pop music’s most visible participants including Jay-Z and Beyonce flowed strangely into the period piece. The harsh, back room music of the era would have been raucous and over the top but the contemporary rap sound led to some cringe moments. With a few exceptions (Jack White’s Love is Blindness and XX’s Together) I don’t feel like this is a soundtrack that I’d listen to on repeat.  

·         Craig Armstrong’s original score on the other hand is breathtaking. He fuses emotion, with period sounds such as muffled trumpets and wa-wa piano allowing the viewer to completely dive into the scenes in which his music is present. Please tell me that the score is available somewhere?!


·         Leonardo DiCaprio- This is the performance of a lifetime. Showing vulnerability, strength, fear, drive and desire from the first moment that we see him, which I believe will become a benchmark cinematic moment, we cannot take our eyes off of him. Embodying the character mind and soul live the life of the lonely millionaire who holds on to an imagined love affair for years. I’ve heard complaints about his use of the phrase “Old sport.” Re-read the book, it’s in there THAT MUCH. : )

·         Tobey Maguire- Although I’m not always a fan of his work I feel like he fit perfectly into the role of narrator. It was believable that Gatsby  would be-friend him and his growth and reflection on the happenings around him help to document this painfully beautiful parable about America to the audience.

·         Carey Mulligan- This is my least favorite casting choices of the main characters. Although Mulligan is beautiful and looks in many ways like an all-American girl, I didn’t feel any chemistry between her and any other characters. It seemed as if she was acting in a vacuum. I can’t help but wonder if there was a more passionate performance in this role if it would have changed the tenor of some of the scenes which other critics have complained about.

·         Isla Fisher -As Mrs. Wilson, Isla Fisher was another stand-out. Her lip, wrists, hips; she acts with every ounce of her being. Although she is on the screen for a relatively small amount of time, her vivacious, ripe performance is unforgettable.


·         3-D- I’m not a huge fan of 3-D. Although I did appreciate the use of it in some scenes, words floating across the screen and the expansive look across the lake, for the most part I found it annoying. The car driving scenes are especially hurl-inducing.

·         As to the complaint that the film is boring- The film wasn’t boring to me. I concede that it is a long piece; 2 hours and 23 minutes and some scenes could have been taken out or condensed. I think that it’s sad that a film that at its core is about love, passion, humanity, desire and friendship is considered boring. THERE ARE GIRLS DANCING oN WATER. If we as a society are to the point where a film about emotion is boring than I, like Carraway give up.

·         Enjoy this movie! It is far from perfect, but any great piece of art is. Luhrmann is a cinematic artist. He uses every aspect available to him, visual, sound, costumes, music, setting and molds and layers them into elaborate pieces of art. It is a deliciously lush, eye-opening excessive and breath-taking beautiful experience. It is art.

On a scale of 100: I give this film an 86.

On a scale of 5 stars: I give this film 4 stars.

Please- let me know what you think!



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