The Great Gatsby: Malone Zone film review

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An occasional film review by Peter Malone.

Peter Malone represents SIGNIS and was one of our judges for the 3rd and 4th Insight Film Festivals. A full list of Peter’s reviews can be found on the SIGNIS website.

The Great Gatsby 

1306006 Great Gatsby





: Australia/USA (2013)
Production: Warner Bros: webtrailer (02.27)
Technical specifications: 142 minutes, Colour.

Cast includes: Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, Cary  Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Jack Thompson: IMDb

Producer/Director/Screenwriter: Baz Luhrman: IMDb

Malone Zone review

Baz Luhrman has said that F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel did not receive good reviews when it was published.  Nevertheless, it was popular, was quickly adapted for the stage and then filmed, a silent version which has been lost. Baz Luhrman’s version of what is now called the great American novel has not received good reviews either, many of them complaining that he has not filmed the book as they know and like it, losing its sublety, and indulging in the flashy flamboyance that is Luhrman’s trademark.  They tend to be reviewing Luhrman rather than the film.  And, after all, it is not the novel, but an interpretation of it.

There have also been three other versions of The Great Gatsby, one in 1949 (in black and white) with Alan Ladd, another in 1974 with Robert Redford, and a television version in 2000 with Toby Stephens (giving it a limited world audience). Which means that there has not been a version in cinemas since 1974, the year that Leonardo di Caprio was born – and he filmed the current version when he was the same age as Robert Redford was for his.

Which means that this is a version for the 21st century.  It is bigger and brighter.  It is more forthright about relationships, betrayals, and sexuality than the previous versions.  It has a brighter soundtrack and was filmed in 3D.

Baz Luhrman keeps close to Fitzgerald’s plot about the mysteriously rich man who has bought a Long Island mansion in 1922, throws lavish parties even though he himself is not always visible.  The gliteratti of the time rush uninvited and swamp the wild goings on.  But, behind the scenes is a rather simple, even naïve, plot where a man wants to meet his lost love and arranges opportunities so that he can win her back.

The plot is told from the point of view of broker, Nick Carraway, who rented a cottage next to Gatsby’s mansion, is a cousin of Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s love, and went to college with Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband. The film opens with Nick in an institution where he recounts his memories to his doctor who urges him to write it all down. Nick admires Gatsby, inviting us to do the same, even though Gatsby has more than a shady past, which he lies about, amplifying his reputation – and a more than questionable present.  Some critics think that Luhrman has made him too much of a romantic hero, and there is a point in that comment.

The trouble is that Fitzgerald did not have much time (at least in theory) for this rich and self-indulgent crowd, and Nick certainly makes some condemnatory comments about them at the end.  The other trouble is that Daisy may have been a sweet young woman when Gatsby, in the army, first met her.  But, in truth, she is shallow, selfish and ultimately, quite fickle.  Gatsby loves her but over-idealises her.  Buchanan is something of a rotter and has an affair with the wife of the local garage operator and throws sex parties at the apartment he has set up for his lover.  The situation builds up to a confrontation between Buchanan and Gatsby and a motor accident that leads to more manipulation and tragedy.

There is also that mesmerising billboard near the garage, the eyes staring out at all that is going on.

So, this small and rather ordinary scenario is given a multi-million dollar treatment to bring to the screen a lavish era in America.

The cast is wide-ranging, with many Australian actors in supporting roles.  Jack Thompson is the doctor, Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke are the Wilsons at the garage, Elizabeth Debicki is Daisy’s friend, Jordan.  There are glimpses of Barry Otto, Vince Colossimo and other Australian character actors. The production was done in Australia, relying on effects work as well as the costumes and design by Luhrman’s wife, Catherine Martin.

But, for the archetypal American novel, the stars are American – well, Cary Mulligan, Daisy, is British.  Leonardo di Caprio has been a strong and intense performer for over twenty years, since he was a teenager.  He creates an effective Gatsby.  Toby Maguire (and his voice) are something of an acquired taste, but he fits the role of Nick Carraway very well.  But it is Joel Edgerton who gives a striking performance as Tom Buchanan, a selfish and angry man, who won’t let go of what he possesses.

As with Baz Luhrman’s films, you either surrender to them and get carried along, or you resist them and spend the time cataloguing what you think is wrong with them.  It’s a choice you have to make.

Product links: The Great Gatsby (UK only)

Film: Jack Clayton, The Great Gatsby DVD (1974), Robert Redford, Mia Farrow
Film: Robert Markowitz, The Great Gatsby DVD (2000), ITV drama, Toby Stephens, Mira Sorvino
Book: F Scott FitzGerald, The Great Gatsby (2010), Collins Classics, paperback
Kindle: F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (2011), Green Light

Note: These links lead to product pages at Six per cent of any sales made via these links is paid to Insight Film Festival.

If you prefer to buy titles from UK independent bookshops, please use the My Local Bookshop search engine hosted online by The Booksellers Association.