Saturday, 1 June 2013

How Many Times Can One Man Say "Old Sport"? The Great Gatsby Review (2013)

'The Great Gatsby' is considered to be one of the all-time greatest American novels and it is certainly F.Scott Fitzgerald's most influential work, so why has it been so hard to adapt successfully? The fifth - that's right, fifth -movie adaptation has been out in cinemas for a few weeks now and unfortunately, the general response has not been as positive as everyone expected. I had high hopes when it was originally announced that Baz Luhrmann would be taking the reins, but not even the director of 'Romeo & Juliet' and 'Moulin Rouge' could make a good film out of the original source material. So where did it all go wrong? How did bland old Tobey Maguire win such a key role in the film? How did the 'roaring 20s' come across as so bloody boring? And seriously, how many times can one man say "Old Sport"?

Don't get me wrong; I love Leonardo Dicaprio and I think he's brilliant in every film that he's made but I just wish Luhrmann had directed 'The Great Gatsby' a few years earlier. Dicaprio nails the enigmatic charisma required for the lead role of Gatsby but when he first appeared on screen, I couldn't help but fixate on how old he looked. That's not to say that Leo doesn't look great still but I think the character required a younger lead to make the central romance more believable.

Isla Fisher was a better fit for the role of feisty redhead Myrtle, but I felt that she was grossly underused in the film. Myrtle is pivotal to the plot yet after her madcap introduction, Fisher is reduced to just background glances and the ocassional pout. Joel Edgerton fares far better as Leo's malicious love rival, but what I can't understand is why the two men would be so obsessed with someone as bland as Daisy Buchanan. I've never really understood Carey Mulligan's appeal but at least most of her roles are just bland and inoffensive. In 'The Great Gatsby' however, Mulligan's lack of a personality completely undermines what is supposed to be the driving force behind the entire film. Apologies to fans of the actress but her sheer lack of appeal seriously affected my enjoyment of the film and I couldn't stand her portrayal of Buchanan.  

But can a few disappointing cast choices really make such an impact on a movie? Perhaps 'The Great Gatsby' is just simply unfilmable? That excuse may have held up a decade ago but these days, 'difficult' books like 'Life of Pi' and 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' have been adapted into extremely popular films that have been received well both critically and commercially. So what is it then that makes 'The Great Gatsby' so hard to adapt? 

This may be controversial for some and please correct me if I'm wrong, but I personally don't think the original source material is all that interesting. I know 'The Great Gatsby' is a hallowed classic but hear me out: Most of the excitement concerns the enigma behind Gatsby and the parties he throws, but all of this is told from the perspective of Nick Carraway, a depressed alcoholic who is nothing more than a blank placeholder for the reader's own fascination with Gatsby. The build-up of the romance is fun to begin with but there are only so many flirty glances and surpressed urges you can take before you want something more to happen. Now I'm not saying that Fitzgerald's novel is bad by any means but in order to adapt it successfully, Luhrmann should have played around more with the original structure, condensing the drawn-out sections to maintain the pace right up to the film's explosive finale.

If this review sounds overly negative, it's only because I had such high hopes for what should have been the definitive version of 'The Great Gatsby'. Stylistically however, the movie certainly has a lot going for it. The set design, costumes and cinematography are absolutely stunning and as I mentioned in a previous post, I think the soundtrack is one of the most unique and eclectic collections of songs that I've heard in years. Luhrmann has clearly not lost his touch when it comes to directing and creating a film but I just wish the screenplay had been tighter with better pacing.

I would recommend people give 'The Great Gatsby' a chance as it's clearly a divisive film. For every friend of mine who hates it, I know someone else who's gone back to the cinema to check it out a second time. You also can't go wrong with any performance from the legend that is Dicaprio but the whole thing just felt like a wasted opportunity. Who knows? Maybe the sixth time will be the charm, as long as Gatsby reins in the "Old sports". Fifty nine was enough for one film. 

Were you also disappointed or was this the perfect version of 'The Great Gatsby' for you? What did you think of Leo's performance? And how awesome would it be to go to one of Gatsby's parties? Let me know what you think by commenting, liking and sharing below.

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