Derek Winnert

The Great Gatsby *** (2013, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton) – Movie Review


F Scott Fitzgerald’s delicate, wispy, thin little thing of a novel, The Great Gatsby has become a ridiculously overblown movie, all fake-looking CGI, nervous performances, restless direction and jittery fast cutting.

With enough story for maybe just about 90 minutes, the two and a quarter hour film goes round in circles for an hour or so, but the last half hour finally delivers a bit of the long-awaited, much-needed passion and drama.


You can’t blame director Baz Luhrmann too much, it’s mainly F Scott Fitzgerald’s fault. He wrote a novel not a movie script for heaven’s sake. As Robert Redford and Mia Farrow found out when they starred in the last version 40 years ago, the characters are fiendishly difficult to play on screen, little more than ciphers really, giving Luhrmann’s well-chosen little bunch of good actors some difficulties.


What should they do? Go for florid, theatrical over-playing or subtle under-acting. Either way they’re stuffed. There aren’t enough good scenes or good dialogue for them to chew on and build up the kind of memorable characters that are going to go down in movie history or even be remembered at all, let alone fondly, after the film’s opening weekend.

Most of the time Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t seem that much involved or bothered as Jay Gatsby, 1920s dirt-poor boy turned Jazz Age squillionaire still obsessed with the worthless beauty he’s loved and let lost five years earlier. The film has a problem in that the story’s apparently all about him (it’s called The Great Gatsby, isn’t it?), but he doesn’t appear for the first half hour.


Thereafter, DiCaprio does too much mooning about, enigmatically smiling, looking meaningfully, and saying ‘old sport’ an awful, awful lot. Though, to be fair, he does finally step up to the mark quite brilliantly in the final confrontation scene when he scarily loses his temper and with it the whole game, set and love match.


Carey Mulligan looks nice and vamps well as the femme fatale-ish anti-heroine Daisy, so it’s not her fault that it’s no more than a job efficiently done. Tobey Maguire has more or less the main part as the film’s mentally tormented narrator and writer of the story, as an emotionally therapeutic exercise, ordered by his doctor. Maguire is definitely good, but he can’t do any more than that with it; there’s no more he can do with this material.

But the best performance, surprisingly, comes from Joel Edgerton as Daisy’s two-timing husband Tom Buchanan. He really makes something of this cad and a bounder role, investing it with hidden depth, humanity and even warm, sympathetic understanding, not at all the stock villain you’d expect.


No body else gets a look in, not Isla Fisher as Tom Buchanan’s lover Myrtle Wilson, Jason Clarke as her wronged and vengeful husband George, or Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker, a role with a purpose in the yarn that’s hard to fathom here. And that’s the whole cast!

What Baz Luhrmann is to blame for is the ridiculously overblown movie that he’s come up with. The material would perfectly suit a small, intimate TV drama, or a stage play, if you really feel you want to adapt the book. But then, as a film, nobody would go to the cinema and see a movie that mostly consists of a narrator/writer rambling on and scenes of a handful of people talking in a room.


So Luhrmann solves the problem by turning it into a 3D blockbuster, as though it’s Iron Man 3 or something, complete with the CGI overdrive, huge party crowd scenes, enormous, vastly expensive sets, outrageous costumes, and a cacophony of eclectic music. Having done that, he doesn’t trust any of it and edits like mad, cutting everything up into pretty fragments that can’t form a satisfying whole.

So what we have, of course, is Gatsby the Pop Video. As such, this is fine. But just imagine a film where less is more, where much less is much more, a film where we actually got a whole musical number, a proper rendition of Rhapsody in Blue. That would be worth one more remake.

© Derek Winnert 2013 Movie Review

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