The most beautiful film I’ve ever witnessed visually – with powerful dramaticism, gravitas, tragedy, emotion, & romance by a pedigree DiCaprio & Mulligan-led cast, Baz Luhrmann’s breathtaking & visionary Gatsby is a work of theatrical art. 9.2/10.
Set in the Roaring Twenties in New York, Midwest native Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) arrives in search of the American dream. Nick, a would-be writer, moves in next-door to millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and across the bay from his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her mysterious husband Tom (Joel Edgerton). Thus, Nick becomes drawn into the captivating world of the wealthy and — as he bears witness to their illusions and deceits — pens a tale of impossible love, dreams, and tragedy.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
If you went to high school or college, you have read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby at least once. One of the greatest American novels by every literary metric, it has been a staple and jewel of literature the world over for nearly a century now. Its emotional commentary on the lies and falsehoods money brings, cruelty of human nature, and tragic endings that befall good people some time, the novel is, in my opinion, one of the greatest novels of All-Time and perhaps my favorite I remember reading years ago. So, naturally when I heard there was a big blockbuster film coming out starring the greatest actor in the world in my opinion of Leonardo DiCaprio as the legendary Gatsby and a filmmaker I had been buzzing about for a while due to his theatrical and breathtakingly artistic moving-painting-like style in Baz Luhrmann, I was ecstatic. It was released to good but underwhelming critical response which made me hesitate slightly, but when I saw it opening night, I left the theater with my jaw on the floor: It is a MASTERPIECE. F*ck the critics.
There are so many phenomenal aspects of this film that it will take pages to fully explain, but I will try to keep it somewhat tidy. First, the greatest pro in the film and that which instantly catapulted it into my All-Time favorite films list: it is the most visually breathtaking and beautiful film I have EVER SEEN. As a cinemaphile and lover of the magic and art of filmmaking, I have seen easily over 500 films and shows in my days, but nothing honestly compares to the visual splendor and chillingly painting-like experience I got from this movie. I am not ashamed to say that I even CRIED at how beautiful some of the scenes and cinematography were, the film is not just visually stunning; it is visually OVERWHELMING to the eyes. The colors, costumes, set pieces, cinematography, shots, were all absolutely perfect, as an artist and painter myself, there is nothing I appreciate more and think films should be as moving works of art, which Baz’s The Great Gatsby embodies the most of any film to this day I’d fiercely argue.
I also love Baz’s lovingly crafted direction and tribute to classic, golden-age Hollywood and the novel. Even the very opening scene starts with a black and white designed art deco theme with swing jazz that feels it could be right out of a 1930’s film from Hollywood’s Golden Age, which then morphs spectacularly into the modern effects and film as the Green Light appears. It feels like an acknowledgement of the classics of film, while also diving into the new majesty of what’s possible with today’s film. Genius. Also, using things like Found Footage in the Wall Street scene and a Kubrick-like speaking to the audience through visuals and specific frames instead of lengthy monologues is genius. Finally, the film is VERY true to the novel and renders it breathtakingly with things like even putting the best lines of the novel into word paintings in cascading rainfalls of letters and a script and final product that is EXACTLY true to the novel’s meaning and takeaway points; I have NO IDEA what movie critics were watching or if they’re even educated enough to have gone to high school because they completely misunderstand the novel and unfairly blame the movie for their own flaws.
But, I’ll talk more about that later. Next, the acting. The movie features a legendary cast who all give extremely strong, powerful, and emotionally-resonant performances. Let’s start with Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Nick Carraway. He gets Nick’s plucky, innocent persona perfectly and was a perfect casting decision, fitting how I imagined Nick’s character in the novel to be to a tee. Next, Carey Mulligan. Absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous, Carey’s portrayal of Daisy makes your heart sing and acts the extremely complex, both romantically and morally, female role perfectly. Heck, even with the supporting and cameo actors, including such legendary and diverse actors as Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan (as an Indian man, appreciate immensely) and Joel Edgerton, there is no weak link. However, of course, the title role and legendary Mr. Gatsby is brought to life FLAWLESSLY by Leonardo DiCaprio, the most skilled actor in the world I would argue in one of what I think is one of the best roles of his illustrious storied career. He is complex, scary at times, vulnerable and accessible in others, emotionally powerful and resonant, and utterly unforgettable as Jay and rightfully steals the spotlight and honors the timeless character. How’s that, Old Sport.
Proceeding, the romance. I hate romance films. There, I said it. With sappy ones like The Notebook and tweeny ones like Twilight, I think they’re an abomination and don’t really feel any sense of romance or emotion leaving the theater from them. However, this one was different. It’s the combination of direction, music, cinematography, and top-notch acting devoid in most other romance films that really packs a punch to your heart and makes you feel both Jay and Daisy’s passion and love for each other, the magic of man and woman’s bond, and pain when they’re both separated by fate. I even CRIED at their separation, I’m man enough to admit it, which is absurd considering I usually avoid romantic films as at all costs and have watched over 500+ films and maybe cried 2-3 times AT MOST. It made me feel something, which is what art should do and the sign of masterpiece.
Other strong points in the film are the soundtrack, which is unbelievably good with things like modern will.i.am. dance songs with Roaring 20’s elements, classical swing and even organ songs played on a custom whirlitzer, and the song that captures the film perfectly in Lana Del Ray’s masterpiece song “Young and Beautiful”. There are some misplaced songs (will get to later, dammit Jay-Z), but overall the music is stunning and matches perfectly scenes like the best scene in the film: The Party scene at Gatsby’s grand estate and first introduction to DiCaprio’s Gatsby with fireworks in the background. Also, the luxury in the film is grand too, adding the theatricality I love so much with things like $100 Million mansions on Long Island and classic Duesenberg coupés, which I, as a car and real estate fan, appreciate immensely in its detail and portrayal. Also, the beginning and ending framing of the story with Nick depressed at a cold, dark asylum writing the Great American Novel looking back, is genius and works well, adding to the mythology and tragedy of the story and leaving you with the Greek Tragedy feeling that’s good for you every once in a while as art going back to ancient times. The pacing is also phenomenal, as there is not one point in the film where you are bored as a viewer and not at the edge of your seat, balancing slow romantic moments and grand spectacle parties perfectly.
Finally, the screenplay and portrayal of Fitzgerald’s legendary story are done flawlessly. I have no idea what anyone saying differently are talking about as Baz’s take captured exactly what I took away from the novel and what literary courses I remembered agreed on as well. The story is all about love and betrayal, with Gatsby being heartbroken that money and circumstance drove a wedge between him and his beloved, so he makes all of the money and buys all of these things and throws these lavish parties to impress and win her back, showing he’s different now and what she wanted. However, Daisy is a coward and confused child who realizes that you can’t have both, and betrays Gatsby by opting for Tom and retreating into the safe life secured by old money and careless worry-free living she has been used to instead of choosing the riskier true love with someone who may not have inherited his money but struggled to make everything just for her, adding to the tragedy-fueled ending that makes it strike such a chord with your heart. it is also a commentary on the rich and how they can spinelessly break and wreck people and do whaever they want, simply retreating into their money and endlessly resources with not even a scratch, which Baz renders perfectly on screen especially in that jaw-droppingly emotional and powerful ending.
Now, while these are a treasure trove of pros and could have been elaborated on endlessly for pages and pages more believe me, there are a couple of minor flaws that make the film a masterpiece, but not PERFECT as it could have been. For one, several of the songs in the film are misplaced. Gosh, Jay-Z, WHY did you have to put modern hip-hop into a serious film set in the ROARING TWENTIES?!?! It takes some of the wind of the sails to hear Kanye West’s Who Gon Stop Me in a movie portraying one of the greatest novels ever, and interrupts the otherwise masterfully transportive experience of the visuals, cinematography, and acting that make you feel authentically in the 20’s and story. The rest of the soundtrack is amazing, but man that was a poor choice. Jay-Z’s cameo too also made me cringe as an unnecessary cash-grab gimmick.
Also, a couple of the casting decisions were ill-placed in my opinion. I did not like Elizabeth Debicki as Jordyn Baker, as I feel she did not fit the role, look like how I imagined her in the novel, and is too skinny and bony in sad model-like fashion instead of more natural like Carey Mulligan. I was also not feeling Isla Fisher as Myrtle, as her accent was aggravating, was given too much attention in the film with completely unnecessary scenes like the party at her apartment, and did not look on the same level as Daisy which begs into question Tom’s judgement if I’m being honest. I thought from the first trailer that it was Amy Adams playing her, which would have been slightly better as she is a great actress, but still ill-placed in the vibe.
Overall, the flaws are miniscule/inconsequential in comparison to the veritable empire of pros this film gets right. If you misunderstood the novel and its point, or flat out did not like The Great Gatsby novel for some inexplicable reason both of which it is obvious many of these uneducated, unappreciative critics and general public did, I can party understand a little criticism for the film. But, for anyone who truly understands the novel and can appreciate the absolutely breathtaking beauty of what Baz Luhrmann was able to accomplish here, the film is a MASTERPIECE and one of my favorite films of All-Time. “We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” – F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Official CLC Score: 9.2/10