When you glance at the so called ‘mixed reviews’ on The Great Gatsby film thus far, you’ll notice the bad reviews have something in common. They all seem obsessed with critiquing the director and his aesthetic style, rather than focusing in on the actual film itself, which you’d think is some kind of required prescience in a FILM REVIEW and all, but what do I know really? (Well I’ve seen the film, so I do know that half of them barely even addressed it in their winding critiques of Baz).
Hence why I really appreciate this well articulated Baz defence from Brendan Maclean, who, despite playing a fairly miniscule role as Klipspringer in the latest adaptation, still had to work hard to pass it off as the real deal.
The other thing that irritates me with the current ‘mixed’ reviews is how unimaginative and boring they are, just re-hashing the same criticisms that were heaped on the 1974 Jack Clayton adaptation by the far better equipped reviewer in the late Roger Ebert. The following criticisms have occured at one point or another, mainly from people yet to even see the film. You’ll notice Ebert treats the subject in a much more suitable and respectful manner than current day critics. The Clayton version was not the best example of an adaptation, but at least Ebert attempted to focus in on the film itself, rather than all the theatrics and gossip behind it. As he’s only human and obviously also a fan of the original novel, he does get defensive of it at times. The difference is that with Ebert, you really believe that the film could have been better, mainly because he goes to great lengths to explain how and why.
Here are Ebert extracts which sound all too familiar to today’s maddened fans, which is a little ironic given how tame the 1974 version is in comparison to the Baz version:
‘The Great Gatsby is a superficially beautiful hunk of a movie with nothing much in common with the spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel.’
‘I wonder what Fitzgerald, whose prose was so graceful, so elegantly controlled, would have made of it: of the willingness to spend so much time and energy on exterior effect while never penetrating to the souls of the characters.’
‘When the casting of Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby was announced, I objected because he didn’t fit my notion of Gatsby: He was too substantial, too assured, even too handsome.’
‘Oh, we’re told, to be sure: The sound track contains narration by Nick that is based pretty closely on his narration in the novel. But we don’t feel. We’ve been distanced by the movie’s overproduction. Even the actors seem somewhat cowed by the occasion; an exception is Bruce Dern…’
Well if he thought 1974 was an overproduction…! I no longer really subscribe to the argument that an over the top production must be at the mercy of failing to do justice to the original text. I still felt that the Baz version renders many heartbreaking, authentic moments, as well as being visually breathtaking. (My favourite scene: where Gatsy sees Daisy in Nick’s house for the first time…so many flowers! so many tears!) As you can see from the 1974 version, the treatment of this crucial scene is impeccable in comparison.The way he interpreted the ‘beautiful shirts’ scene is also really interesting and dynamic, and I think he pulls it off.
Let’s face it, The Great Gatsby is an impossible book to bring to life on screen, same with any of Fitzgerald’s books, but the essence of it is not lost here. I think Baz does the story justice and you can tell he really tried to stay as true to the text as possible (not as much appropriation here as Romeo and Juliet but still placing it in a modern pastiche). So to claim to the contrary is unfair and presumptuous. It’s a fair adaptation in that he recreates the superficiality of that world in such an entertaining and sensory way and does so by transporting you to whole other decadent era that still feels eerily familiar. And yet, in my opinion, he still remains faithful to the darker undertones of the book. It’s almost impossible to really give any moral commentary on the ‘social decay’ of the time, the way you can in a novel format. And so what if some people come away seeing only the glamorous parties? That’s bound to happen. As for our boy Leo, I’m a real fan of his in this role (I was adamantly opposed to his being cast for so long). I think he did such a stellar job of making you feel Gatsby’s suffering. If you’ve seen Catch Me if You Can, you’ll know how good Leo can be as a dazzling, charming wonder boy with a darker sorrow lurking beneath the surface.
The film might take Gatsby in a slightly different direction at times but is that really worth writing off the entire film? The fact that the main criticisms from the ‘bad reviews’ are just a free-for-all at Baz as a director and the ‘good’ reviews are actually an attempt to refer to the film itself, tells us everything we need to know already. See for yourself:
‘What Luhrmann grasps even less than previous adapters of the tale is that Fitzgerald was, via his surrogate Carraway, offering an eyewitness account of the decline of the American empire, not an invitation to the ball.’
‘Because Luhrmann is always thirsting for the next grand gesture — the next emotional crescendo — the book’s subtlety and shading get trampled under his overblown aesthetic.’
‘It’s as if every bit of creativity dried up the moment the deal was signed. Yes, this is exactly what I would expect a Baz Luhrmann ‘Gatsby’ would look like, but is that enough?’
‘This film marks the official moment in which Baz Luhrmann’s signature style has become self-parody. So we beat on, boats against the current, jumping the shark.’
‘The cast is first-rate, the ambiance and story provide a measure of intoxication and, most importantly, the core thematic concerns pertaining to the American dream, self-reinvention and love lost, regained and lost again are tenaciously addressed.’
‘The fourth adaptation of the Fitzgerald novel scores some hits and wild misses, but DiCaprio nails the bull’s-eye.’
‘The film builds from an early small-scale Bacchanalia in a gaudy pink New York pied-a-terre to the giant-scale choreographed chaos of the Gatsby party centerpiece, the tour-de-force that makes the movie a must-see.’
It is an absolute must-see and it will be seen and talked about, studied, revived and read again by so many people and that is all that really matters.