Welcome to a new review section of Cinema Cocoa, Remake Rumble, where I review a film that has been remade. That’s right, two films for the price of one on Cinema Cocoa!
The Baz Luhrmann adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great Gatsby” was something I was keen to review, but I wanted to see the 1974 original first. So bafflingly curious was I that I went ahead and read the original book beforehand as well!
Unfortunately the Luhrmann film hasn’t been given a release on Lovefilm or Netflix, so its been a long time coming before I could actually watch these for comparison sake! What better excuse is there then to start remake reviews.
Starring Robert Redford in the titular role, I wasn’t even aware of this films existence until the new film released, and apart from some dated cinematography, this film by Jack Clayton came very close to how I felt the book was told.
Seen from the perspective of everyday man Nick Carraway (Sam Waterston) visiting his cousin Daisy Buchanan, we are exposed to a lifestyle of American bliss, riches, ignorance and selfishness. Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man who hates social interaction, hosts parties at his mansion every week for anyone to attend. But he personally invites Nick, seemingly out of the blue, as his confidant and soon Nick discovers that recluse and shadowy Gatsby has feelings for the married Daisy.
The book is a quick read; it barrels along because it does one thing only and does it well, it explores the sickness that comes with riches and the often two-faced nature of human beings for both good and ill reasons. Daisy is the embodiment of blissful ignorance; on the surface she is a damsel, she says all women can only be “beautiful little fools”, but deep down she has an unpleasantness all her own. Every character has this dark trouble inside of them, apart from Carraway, who behaves here much as he does in the book; as an audience surrogate. The betrayal, misdeeds and affairs that run through the other characters can be clearly shown from the eyes of an outsider.
Jack Clayton’s film captures the look and feel of the book excellently; from Gatsby’s mansion to Wilson’s garage, from the cars to the ominous billboard that watches over our characters with unblinking eyes. With a run time of over two hours, everything is explored in detail and the script is the dialogue lifted from the source material. Most of the iconic lines are left intact, and delivered with conviction.
However towards the end of the story I wasn’t sure if all the characters’ darkest motivations were given their fullest attention. I didn’t feel Daisy was represented as selfish or as destructive as she could have been, for me the tables radically turn on all of the characters throughout the book. The same goes for Gatsby himself, but his character is more up to personal interpretation (by the end of the book, I didn’t care for Gatsby)
A final note on Redford’s Gatsby, he is good in the role as he pulls off the shady and introverted one moment and the noble soldier in the next with authenticity. He looks like he could have been a soldier a lifetime ago.
That is what seems best about this film; its honest appearance and integrity to the book. It just might seem a bit drab, I’m not sure it captures quite how truly weak and corrupted each of the characters truly were.
With director Baz Luhrmann comes a great deal of flamboyance and embellishment, something I usually dislike with his work, but with The Great Gatsby not only does he have a requirement to mellow out, it actually benefits from his gaudy cinematography.
Unlike the 1974 version, the film is from Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire)’s perspective after the book’s events as he speaks to a psychiatrist after his experiences. This feels inconsistent with the book as there was no real suggestion Carraway was so badly traumatised, and feels like an excuse to differentiate from the previous film.
Like it or hate it, this does lift Carraway out of the rut of audience surrogate; I did feel as though I were watching a character and not a story device.
Admittedly all of the characters in Luhrmann’s version feel more lively than in the Clayton film. Coupled with the cinematography the actors burst and beam with all the encouragement and shallowness that the book suggested. While Carey Mulligan’s Daisy doesn’t have the same clingy ignorance that Mia Farrow gave the character, the portrayal of both her husband Tom and Gatsby himself feel more genuine. A lot of the conflict is between these two characters, and Joel Edgerton and Leonardo DiCaprio carry this off with great ferocity!
A lot of time is given to Gatsby and his mystery. This is an improvement on the original film as we see a lot more of the gossip and chatter about him before we meet him (his reveal is also exact to the novel this time, very well underplayed) and there a lot more to understand about his recluse nature and about his need to put Daisy on the proverbial plinth and how shallow and misguided he really is.
But, with all the time dedicated to this, some elements are missed out. Possibly the worst scene missing is Gatsby’s discovery that Tom and Daisy were with child. Its omission (until an offhanded reference later) makes Gatsby seem more forgivable in his actions overall. This and the relationship between Tom and Wilson is lacking; indeed Wilson and Myrtle are pushed to one side, as secondary as they are, they are still critical to the conclusion to the main characters! Jay Gatsby ultimately comes out of this film lighter still than the 1974 film, despite Luhrmann’s excellent attempt at showing every character’s weakness.
Lurhmann’s desire to have popular music mixed through the scores of his films feels even more out of place here. This is the 1920s, Baz, they didn’t have beat boxing and rap or modern songs. It isn’t overriding by any stretch, in fact for Luhrmann it is positively made as undertones, but simply removing it would have improved my immersion greatly! I can partly forgive this though, as Luhrmann’s cinematography and lavish colour palette does give the story so much life and creativity to the proceedings.
I was impressed by the portrayal of the characters in this interpretation; they all have their moments to shine and to be dragged through the gutter, despite a couple of strange oversights. If you can see past Luhrmann’s excess, you should find something here that even the 1974 version didn’t cover.
Additional Marshmallows: Random kudos to Luhrmann for not simply titling his interpretation as Gatsby like every movie does nowadays.