A Spectacular Soundtrack And A Delightful Daisy: Our Review Of 'The Great Gatsby'

11 November 2013

It was, without a doubt, the most eagerly anticipated film of the year – and not only because director Baz Luhrmann delayed the release date by six months, to get his ambitious 3D reworking of The Great Gatsby just right.

But could it live up to the hype, we wondered? Could Carey Mulligan pull off the role of Daisy Buchanan, the part which every Hollywood starlet fought tooth and nail for? Could heavyweight Leonardo DiCaprio truly embody the enigmatic Gatsby? And would Baz butcher the beloved book by F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the greatest American novels of all time? 

The film is out on DVD today, but before you snap up a copy, why not read our review...

The verdict: well, we had reservations bigger than Jay Gatsby’s glittering West Egg mansion, but it was definitely worth the wait.

1. LEO MAKES A DIVINE JAY GATSBY

Robert Redford played the eponymous self-made man in the 1974 film version, and Toby Stephens in the rather weak reworking in 2000, but the character now truly belongs to Leo, who owns the screen as a tanned, charming, golden Gatsby, resplendent in cream linen and pink three-piece suits.

He’s a softer Leo (not physically, he’s looking much trimmer than usual, in fact) than we have witnessed in recent roles – his oft-seen ‘shouting face’ emerges only once. For the rest of the two hours and 23 minutes, he’s the perfect blend of braggadocio and vulnerability. His Gatsby is not just likeable, but under the artificial, affected manners, he is tender and loveable.

2. CAREY DELIGHTS AS DAISY BUCHANAN

The actress herself recently described Daisy as being ‘like a Kardashian’, and her contemporary analysis is spot-on. Wealthy, beautiful, vain, spoilt, removed from reality – the (married) object of Gatsby’s affection is sparkling, enchanting…and slappable.  

Clad in Prada-issue feathers and frills, and draped in Tiffany diamonds, Mulligan’s Daisy implores petulantly: ‘Can’t we just have fun?”

And the British actress does it in a voice not just ‘full of money’ as Fitzgerald famously wrote, but in an impressively accurate accent for a well-bred Kentucky debutante too.

3. BAZ LUHRMANN CAPTURES THE CHAOS & ENERGY OF THE ROARING '20s

The fervour of the Wall Street traders and the palpable energy that pulsed through New York as the Jazz Age began to rexplode is perfectly captured in scenes at the feverish Stock Exchange and the louche, lascivious Speakeasies in the city.

But it’s at Gatsby’s notorious parties where the decadence, glamour, greed and excess really pour forth, in a riotous, bacchanalian 1920s version of a Las Vegas pool party crossed with a giant cabaret carnival. There are vast pyramids of glasses overflowing with champagne, endless trays of martinis borne by liveried waiters, fireworks, orchestras, glitter cannons and Hollywood celebrities. In short, the sort of bash every ‘boutique festival’ should really be.   

Grazia Review: The Great Gatsby

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4. YES, HE’S MESSED AROUND WITH THE TEXT A BIT

Most notably, the narrator of the story, Nick Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire), is now in a sanitarium for ‘morbid alcoholism, anxiety and fits of anger’, from where he relates, and then writes, the tale of Gatsby as a form of therapy.

It’s not the most subtle way to insert Nick’s crucial observations into the film, but the character is a frustrated writer, so it’s not too drastic a departure. And it allows Baz to play heavily on some of the most celebrated passages from the book, which might redeem him a little in the eyes of the purists.

5. THE 3D ELEMENT IS POINTLESS, BUT EASY ENOUGH TO IGNORE

I blame James Cameron entirely for convincing half of Hollywood into believing everything has to be made in 3D now. Gatsby gains nothing whatsoever from messing with our depth perception, but it is, at least, a relatively subtle treatment.

Far more striking is the hyper-real, dreamlike cinematography, which heightens the contrasts between the hot, heaving city, the lush, manicured lawns and mansions along the Long Island Sound, and the eerie, grim wasteland of the Valley of Ashes.

6. THE SOUNDTRACK IS SPECTACULAR – AND SPOT-ON

Criticised in some quarters for the contemporary soundtrack - which includes Jay-Z, will.i.am, Florence and the Machine, Lana Del Ray and Andre 3000 – Baz explained that hip-hop is to us what jazz was to Gatsby’s guests - a modern version of African American street music, so it’s all rather appropriate (and there is plenty of traditional jazz in there too). 

The clever, comical placing of Emile Sande’s cover of ‘Crazy In Love’ and the heavy beat of will.i.am’s ‘Bang Bang’ while a veritable orgy, like a ‘chemical madness’, unfolds in front of poor Nick Carraway, are a delicious feast for the senses - as is the entire film.

If you aren’t itching to sport a sleek Daisy bob and dying for a mint julep by the end of proceedings, I’ll eat my fringed headdress.

The Great Gatsby is released on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from 11th November.

By Jane Mulkerrins


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