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This Is Northern New South Wales

THE GREAT GATSBY: RE-INVENTED NOT REMADE

I have to admit I was pretty skeptical while waiting for the titles to roll on Baz Luhrmann’s latest cinematic indulgence.

The Great Gatsby is such a fantastic novel. F. Scott Fitzgerald perfectly portrays the opulence of the early 1920s, pre-depression America; the pure desperation of the lower classes,  as seen in many of John Steinbeck’s writings, the narcissism and debauchery of a wealthy bourgeoisie  and the chasm-like divide that separated them.

Then came the movie. Okay, the 1974 film, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, was actually the third adaptation of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece – but far and away the version people readily think of when discussing. Redford – the man that made the knees of a million housewives go weak, a man that could chill a Martini with a cursory glance – he simply was Jay Gatsby. And Mia, oh Mia. Pure class: fragility with underlying strength, delicate beauty but self-assuredness.

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This is the foundation upon which I was building my opinion – but that foundation soon fell to pieces…

The first thing that strikes you about this the fourth take on the book is the richness; rich costumes, rich colours, rich sets, sounds and scenes. Actually no, the first thing that strikes you is how utterly terrible an actor Tobey MaGuire is – but that’s a whinge I’ll leave for later!

Baz does what Baz does, and by gum does Baz do it well. We’ve seen it in Moulin Rouge and in Romeo & Juliet, and The Great Gatsby is no different. Bringing the principles of stage acting, screenplay and direction to film, Luhrmann exaggerates everything from the costumes to the action and even the movements and gesticulations of his actors.

What Luhrmann does, and (spoiler alert!) makes The Great Gatsby such a breathtakingly brilliant film, is re-invent what has gone before. He hasn’t tried to retell the story or recreate the 1974 classic. He has taken a notion and a script, cocked his leg and marked his territory all over it – with phenomenal success. If almost any other director had attempted this project, I can guarantee that I’d be the one cocking my leg all over the result, but Baz’s eye for cinematography, that intrinsic Broadway-esque showmanship and his completely over-the-top extravagance make this film leap off the screen and assault your senses. You become sensorily engorged on each and every frame, transfixed by the action and story yet absorbed in every subliminal detail. In one scene, a cascade of silver confetti descends upon two main characters and you know, you simply know that, in the following conversation scene, Luhrmann meticulously placed every single piece of confetti remaining in the characters’ hair and on their clothing. Imagine Moulin Rouge or Romeo & Juliet set in the Roaring ’20s New York and you will picture The Great Gatsby.

But there is one area in which our Baz failed abysmally, and that was in his choice of casting agent.

I’m not a Leo-hater. A lot of people clench jaw and fist at the mention of Mr DiCaprio, but I remember What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and The Basketball Diaries. Boy can act, and he has my respect. But Leonardo DiCaprio is not, despite an outstanding entrance scene, he absolutely isn’t, in all his suaveness, he just can’t be, even with his impeccably quoiffed hair, The Legendary Jay Gatsby.

Gatsby had that unfalteringly cool, unbelievably suave, debonair class about him, the pure style that Redford incorporated and embodied so perfectly in the role. I do admit, and have stated, that Luhrmann has re-invented the film, but to so miscast the main character is inexcusable! Carey Mulligan is another fantastic actor hard-done by in a mis-matched role. Brilliant in Never Let Me Go, her whispy, girl-next-door persona just doesn’t fit the part. Think Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – ditsy, waifish, exquisitely gorgeous, but underneath it all, a self-sufficient strength that could see her change a car tyre or knock back a tequila sour. Mulligan would melt sooner than bang in a picture hook, and this is where she misses the character.

Then there’s Spider…err…I mean Tobey Maguire. Don’t ask – just please, for your own sake, don’t even get me started on what a complete waste of the celluloid on which his expressionless face was printed on he is.

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But bring on the Aussies! Joel Edgerton: wife-beating legend, Elizabeth Debicki: ball-breaking grace and poise, Isla Fisher: absolutely lovable slut! Between the three of them, they really drag the cast back to respectable and make a far more tangible story of the whole piece.

These massive errs in casting can be excused though, for the simple reason that it isn’t the visible characters you are watching on the big screen. Whoever may have been cast in any of the roles, what is undeniable is that the lead character, the one who steals each and every single scene – is Baz Luhrmann. It is his film, his vision and his persona that unequivocally makes this an absolutely miss-it-and-kick-yourself fantastic film.

Go on an empty stomach – this film will fill you up like a Roman banquet.

RATING:
4.5

Review by: Tommy Leitch – www.subcutanea.net | courtesy of Palace Cinemas. Byron Bay