In anticipation of watching Baz Luhrmann’s “Great Gatsby” on DVD, I re-read the original novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. What follows are my impressions of the film. If you haven’t seen it, this will probably make no sense to you at all.
Overall, I thought Baz nailed it. NAILED it.
Now, in fairness, the device of having Nick in a rest home getting over his trauma was unnecessary, and bugged me a bit. But, I thought the characters were good. It was interesting, too, that the bits of dialogue that were not in the original book stood out like a sore thumb. Unsurprisingly, you can’t just add things to Fitzgerald’s writing.
As for the characters … I didn’t think they were over the top. They were bigger-than-life, which went with the impressionistic nature of the presentation in general. I actually liked Tom more in the movie than in the book (although I think he should have been physically bigger than he was).
DiCaprio was perfect as Gatsby (although when he started to fall apart, I did have flashbacks to “The Aviator”). Carey Mulligan only did “the voice” in the first scene, but she did a great job of looking miserable and weak for the rest of the picture.
I’m not a Tobey Maguire fan, but that role needs to be filled by a non-entity to keep from overshadowing Gatsby (kinda the way that the journalist in “Citizen Kane” is never seen, to keep him from becoming the main character instead of Kane himself).
Some people object to the pacing and soundtrack. I understand the criticisms, but those aspects of the film didn’t bother me. There was one scene where there was sort of a montage of spoken lines from the book. It was almost like an easter egg, or something thrown in for the fans. I can see why it might seem like “cramming” to someone who hadn’t read the book.
I think the music would have bothered me if I hadn’t been prepared for it, but I knew going in that Jay-Z did the soundtrack, so I was bracing myself.
Ultimately, I felt that watching the movie helped me understand the book better, which is why I consider it a success. Baz Luhrmann obviously “got” the story and the characters, and translated it for modern audiences in an accessible and reasonably authentic way.