The Great Gatsby (2013) - DVD Review

'Luhrmann juxtaposes 1920s New York with jarringly modern tracks... a technique which only serves to yank you out of the film every time you’ve just managed to settle back in after the last 21st Century tune transgression.' 

More so than any of his other movies, it’s hard when watching The Great Gatsby not to regularly make comparisons to director Baz Luhrmann’s Shakespearean adaptation, Romeo + Juliet. Not only does his 1996 film mark Luhrmann’s only other attempt to bring a literary classic to the big screen, but the director’s aesthetic choices throughout The Great Gatsby - as well as casting Leonardo DiCaprio, his erstwhile Romeo, in the title role - are likely to bring memories of his fluorescently modern fair Verona come flooding back.

But whilst Lurhmann’s contemporary update of Shakespeare is regularly heralded as a shining example of how to successfully put a modern twist on literary heritage, when bringing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous novel to the big screen the director is notably less successful than when taking on The Bard.

Luhrmann’s vision of the roaring twenties is at times gleefully successful, at others painfully misjudged. Scenes of Gatsby’s extravagant and transcendent parties are often breathtaking, encapsulating the excesses and raucousness of the decade exquisitely as well as being strongly reminiscent of the iconic Capulet ball in Romeo + Juliet. The director’s artistic visual choices therefore make The Great Gatsby’s soundtrack all the more frustratingly distracting. Luhrmann juxtaposes his impressionistic images of 1920s New York with jarringly modern tracks from the likes of Jay-Z and It’s a technique which never sits well, only serving to awkwardly yank you out of the film every time you’ve just managed to settle back into it after the last 21st Century tune transgression.

A more successful balance is arguably struck with Luhrmann’s cast. Joel Edgerton and Carey Mulligan deliver strong performances throughout, and Jason Clarke is a welcome presence in a role you’ll wish had received both greater screen time and development. Casting DiCaprio as Gatsby is also a smart decision, with the actor deftly handling both the folklore-like urban mythology and rawer tragic elements of the character. DiCaprio has matured immeasurably as a screen presence since his last starring role for Luhrmann almost two decades ago, something which the director could have recognised a little more at times; for all the impressive scenes DiCaprio delivers, there are also notable moments throughout where the star could have been dramatically stretched further by his director.

Opposite DiCaprio’s enigmatic presence, Tobey Maguire feels an underwhelming choice as Nick Carraway. It’s not that Maguire gives a poor performance, more that he struggles to craft anything memorable with such defined performances surrounding him. If Carraway was a peripheral character this would be easier to overlook, but as the film’s narrative voice and secondary main character Maguire’s unremarkableness leaves a conspicuous dent in the film’s storytelling success.

This is clearly Luhrmann’s most direct attempt to replicate the impressive synthesis of modern artistry and classic literature seen in Romeo + Juliet. With several of The Great Gatsby’s strongest elements bearing a strong resemblance to those found in the earlier film - DiCaprio as lead, ebullient cinematography - Luhrmann does achieve a degree of success in doing that. But there’s also too much here that either falls short of what it needs to be, or just doesn’t work. The Great Gatsby is certainly never a bad film, it’s just too hit-and-miss to ever consider it a great one.

The Great Gatsby is out on UK Blu-ray and DVD now.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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