I remember the first time I watched The Great Gatsby was when it released in theatres way back during my high school days. One of my friends wanted to see it and I was happy to tag along (I had no idea what this movie was about though). Thinking about it now, I definitely wasn’t able to fully appreciate the story back then and after rewatching it today, I realized I enjoyed it more this time around. The Great Gatsby is a tragedy as much as it is a romantic drama. While it’s easy to get swept up in the extravagance of the parties and the flashy visuals, the movie is really about the tragic story of Jay Gatsby, a hopeful man desperately clinging to the past in an attempt to reunite with the love of his life. The film is based on the novel of the same name (1974) written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and is directed by Baz Luhrmann. The cast is amazing and includes the talented Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, and Isla Fisher.
Set in New York during the early 1920s, the movie is narrated completely through the recollections of Nick Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire). There’s a sort of chaoticness in the way the story was told that almost verged on being too much, but strangely enough, it worked. The outlandish storytelling perfectly matched Gatsby’s dysfunctional nature which I thought was a nice touch to the film. It created a vibrant tone that paired nicely with its colourful palette and visual spectacles.
The first third of the The Great Gatsby was a little too drawn out for my taste and I could feel myself losing interest. The only thing that kept me going was the quiet whispers about the mysterious Gatsby. The movie set up Gatsby quite well, it just took a while to get there. It wasn’t until Nick finally met Gatsby at his party that the movie really started to kick off. So until then, you kind of just have to wait it out. The first third is definitely necessary though (yes, you should be paying attention) because it helps set up the pieces for the rest of the film – it just felt a little dull.
After meeting Gatsby, everything changed. The true story behind the plot revealed itself and suddenly you’re whisked into a romantic (but tragic) love story. There was something pure but also very sad about the way Gatsby and Daisy’s history was told. It was almost as if I knew there was no way there could be a happy ending for the two of them.
DiCaprio put on a solid performance as Gatsby (no surprise there) and he really captured Gatsby’s descent into madness well. He’s a complex character to play and I thought DiCaprio did well in showcasing all the nuances. While I initially rooted for Gatsby (after seeing Daisy stuck in that hopeless marriage to a cheating husband), the slow reveal of his obsessive and ignorant personality scared me. His complete dedication in stealing Daisy away was frightening – I mean, going from rags to riches and then buying a fancy house and throwing expensive parties all for one girl is kind of a lot. Despite his growing insanity, it was impressive that DiCaprio managed to express a sincerity behind Gatsby’s intentions.
Of course I can’t give all the spotlight to DiCaprio because the entire cast put on a good show. Mulligan perfectly nailed the “wide doe-eyed” gentleness of Daisy’s character and she had this beautiful but grim loneliness about her that matched the character well. But the surprise performance of the movie for me belonged to Edgerton because he played that asshole character really well. Tom as a character was pretty one note, so I was pleasantly surprised by the range that Edgerton was able to bring to him. I’d say the least commendable performance was Maguire’s, but not because he didn’t act well, it’s just the role is pretty bland on its own. Nick is more or less part of the audience – although he’s in most of the shots, he doesn’t particularly add anything to the plot.
Before I conclude this review, I do want to point out one aspect of The Great Gatsby that really bothered me. While “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey is an exception, I felt most of the modern music used in the soundtrack felt out of place. There were a couple times where it took me out of the movie and I struggled to understand why the filmmakers chose it. Something about the modernness of the songs didn’t quite fit with the tone of the movie, leading to an unsatisfying clash of the senses.
I’m really glad that I decided to revisit this movie because I had only seen it the one time many years ago. I remember walking out of the theatre and thinking it was neither a good film nor a really bad one. So what are my final thoughts after watching it nine years later? Honestly, I have similar thoughts. While it’s not a bad movie by any means, there’s a clumsiness to the film that stops it from being very good. The actors all put on performances worthy of compliments, but the execution of the pacing and directing needed more work. With that in mind, my final score for The Great Gatsby is a 6.5/10. I know this movie isn’t for everyone, so I probably wouldn’t go around casually recommending it. But if you’re a fan of the original novel, I’d say it’s worth giving it a shot.
I think I also need to revisit this film as I don’t remember “loving” it when I first saw it.
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