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The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

“Gatsby” isn’t quite golden but it still glitters

LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Jay Gatsby in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “THE GREAT GATSBY,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

“The Great Gatsby” may be the greatest piece of American fiction ever written. The backdrop of the roaring twenties provided an interesting time and place for the novel, but the how and why transcend “Gatsby’s” window dressing. The human element and themes of decadence, love, betrayal and resisting change is what makes “Gatsby” intrinsically timeless.

It should come as no surprise then that director Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” tries to use a heavy hand to force that timelessness by adding a modern flair to the world of Jay Gatsby. Besides modern editing and special effects that most noticeable element of the contemporaneous injections was the music.

Jazz was such an intrinsic part of the world of swinging and speakeasys that its inclusion is nigh mandatory,and to the film’s credit, for the most part, the soundtrack is as bombastic as one would expect and subtle and nuanced when needed.

It’s the inclusion of the modern music from the likes of Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey and Amy Winehouse that do the film the most disservice. It’s obvious that Luhrmann was trying to draw analogues between 1920’s and modern cultural excess, but it drew me out of the film. More so during scenes where the modern music would fade in and out of the most traditional jazz and big band backings. While the characters and themes are timeless, the setting of “Gatsby” is intrinsically shaped by the times, and I feel Lurhmann missed that point.

This misstep regarding the music stands as a direct contrast to the spectacular art direction throughout the film.

The scenes at Gatsby’s mansion in particular are splendid. From costumes to lighting to set design, everything becomes swept up in a whirlwind of smart suits, short dresses and glitzy confetti that spirals inward, drawing the eye from spectacle to spectacle. Simply put, these scenes are kinetic and fun; a stark contrast to the more somber human moments that are often the bookends to these sorts of scenes.

These moments of humanity are what really let “Gatsby” escape it’s aesthetic trappings and become more than just a pretty face. To their credit, the scenes themselves succeed, not because of a particularly clever script or dialogue, but because the acting is grounded as opposed to the larger-than-life visual styling.

It should come as no surprise then, that Gatsby is the one that really steals the show. While he normally seems to exude confidence and charm in almost any role that calls for it, Leonardo DiCaprio seems purpose-built to fill the shoes of Jay Gatsby. As Gatsby, he is peerless. At this point, DiCaprio is THE Gatsby.

The only problem I had with Gatsby as a character had nothing to do with the acting but rather how he’s built up throughout the film, or in this case, how little he’s built up. In the novel, Gatsby is made out to be up mysterious and near-infallible character. Only near the end of the book do you see that facade fall and what’s left exposed is an incredibly flawed man, one who walks a line between pitiful and reprehensible.

The transformation in the film, I feel, is done much more quickly than it needed to be. With weaknesses and flaws exposed early, Gatsby’s fall is all too expected and ends up feeling like a slow slide instead of a drop off a cliff. What could have been a more nuanced and surprising bit of character development, instead has its card shown a too early and the pacing of the film suffers for it.

Another minor detail that was worrisome was the film sometimes relying on telling the viewer details instead of showing them. While the part of Nick Carraway is well played by Toby Maguire, his character’s narration throughout the entirety of the film seems like an easy solution in a situation where sudden enlightenment is common and stories can become convoluted while trying to decipher what’s real and what’s fabricated by one or more of the tale’s players.

With such a huge legacy to live up to, it’s no surprise that Luhrmann’s adaptation of Fitzgerald’s magnum opus gets lost in its own opulence. Whether that opulence is a product of Luhrmann’s vision or just a by-product of adapting the novel to the silver-screen is up for debate.

Regardless, “The Great Gatsby” seems to stumble here and there but solid acting and stunning visuals help keep the film’s feet firmly planted more often than not.

What Luhrmann has created is a vision of “Gatsby” that is much like the man; larger-than-life, and inherently flawed. As a film, it has problems, but as a retelling of one of the greatest pieces of fiction ever written, it’s worth the whole damn bunch put together.

LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Jay Gatsby in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “THE GREAT GATSBY,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
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About the Contributor
Troy Patton
Troy Patton, Arts & Features Editor
Arts and features editor, spring 2013.

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“Gatsby” isn’t quite golden but it still glitters