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Great Scott, Not So Great Baz - A review of The Great Gatsby

Updated on May 13, 2013
Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) shows Daisy and Tom Buchanen (Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton) around his home as Nick Carraway (Tobey McGuire) looks on.
Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) shows Daisy and Tom Buchanen (Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton) around his home as Nick Carraway (Tobey McGuire) looks on.
3 stars for The Great Gatsby

Summary: As visually stunning as this movie is, it just doesn’t hold up emotionally to the quality of the source material. Terrific acting just can’t balance that shortcoming.

F. Scott Fitzgerald can be the bane of many high school students. The Great Gatsby was, and probably still is, required reading and the cliff notes, as detailed as they can make them, didn’t always get you through the multiple guess tests or give the inspiration to write compellingly convincing essays.

Well, now kids can draw inspiration from this movie. The film is certainly true to the novel, but it lacks the emotional punch that this story should eviscerate from its captivated audience.

I suspect that there will be readers out there who will criticize me for making that statement. Yes, I’m a male viewer watching a decidedly romantic story set in a historical milieu. Let me just say, though, that the best romances and historical tragedies will always touch my heart when they are well acted and directed.

I expected much more, though, from Baz Luhrmann, the man who previously helmed the updating of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. It felt like everything about this picture was done to attract a younger audience to the original tale, but it fails to emotionally draw in the readers who are probably more familiar with the traditional masterpiece.

This is Gatsby for the post-MTV generation. Even the musical soundtrack, assembled by modern musical mastermind Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter, fails to emotionally carry the story.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as the titular millionaire brings off just the right air of mystery and the standoffishness of a man uncomfortable in almost any situation who tries to evoke a false adventurous spirit that may or may not be his true history. Tobey McGuire, fresh off a stint as superhero teen Spiderman and an icon for younger audiences, is compelling as Nick Carraway, the casual observer/narrator who watches those involved barreling towards unavoidable tragedy.

Less compelling is Joel Edgerton who plays Tom Buchanen, the husband of Gatsby’s love interest Daisy, played by the stunningly beautiful young actress Carey Mulligan. She is not only a gifted actress, but the soul of this production. Without her in this role, this would be just another contemporary wannabe instant classic without the backbone necessary to warrant the reproduction of the tale.

This is the type of movie, though, that should almost certainly win for Art Direction at next year’s Academy Awards. Luhrmann has constructed a world that virtually explodes off the screen with unbridled debauchery and visceral intensity. It evokes the spirit if not the letter of Fitzgerald’s work.

Is the movie good? Yes. Is it a classic like the story on which this film is based? Only time will tell. I give The Great Gatsby 3 out of 5 stars.

What is your favorite Baz Luhrmann film to date?

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    • BernietheMovieGuy profile image

      Bernie Ment 5 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      They aren't. This is pop culture at best and Hollywood extravagance at worst. Either way, it falls way short of it's potential. It really is a cliffnotes version of the classic book. Thanks for the comment!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 5 years ago from San Diego California

      I had to read the Great Gatsby both in high school and college, but I didn't really "get it" until college. The second time around I discovered it to be a work that is run through with symbolism and harsh commentaries about the American materialistic ideal. I don't know if the film captures that at all, but it doesn't seem like Ftizgerald's themes could be adequately integrated into film.

    • Nalini Marquez profile image

      Nalini Marquez 5 years ago

      You're welcome and thank you! I look forward to reading more of your reviews and commenting. And thank you for going to read more of my work.

    • BernietheMovieGuy profile image

      Bernie Ment 5 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      Again, thank you, Nalini. I'm humbled by the accolades. Please feel free to read more of my reviews. I welcome your comments on all of them. I hope you enjoy the writing. I will be reading more of your work as well.

    • Nalini Marquez profile image

      Nalini Marquez 5 years ago

      You're welcome! I know that there is only so much one can say without actually having seen the film but to me the previews looked like the emotional aspect of the film was detached so I believe you when you say that there was a lack of emotional impact. I think that unless one is looking for a light or "fluff" film there should be something to emotionally bite into. Too bad the film was a cheese sandwich and not a steak. I will wait for the video (or until the library gets it) to watch it but you did the movie a favor with your hub!

    • BernietheMovieGuy profile image

      Bernie Ment 5 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      Thanks for your comments! The film is not a bad one per se, but what I found most disturbing about it was the utter lack of emotional impact. I've talked to others who disagee with me on that, but I actually looked for something to emotionally bite into. Instead of a steak, I got a cheese sandwich. Wait for the video.

    • Nalini Marquez profile image

      Nalini Marquez 5 years ago

      I like how you wrote this hub. You managed a good balance of both the positives and negatives of the film, while incorporating some nice details. I enjoyed reading your review of the film. I saw parts of Romeo + Juliet in high school and did not think it was great and saw Moulin Rouge and was unimpressed. Because of that and what I saw of the previews for The Great Gatsby, I had no desire to watch the film. Reading your hub makes me want to eventually see it. Carey Mulligan is a talented actress and so I am glad to read that she was the soul of the production (and that the production did have soul to it).


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