It’s one of those books I read as a teenager and which has stayed long in the memory, although it’s such a long time since I read it that that recollection may be of snippets and isolated images rather than of the book as whole ; and it may be that some of those memories are more of the Robert Redford/ Mia Farrow movie of the 1970s than of the book itself. But the current incarnation of the novel is on at all the cinemas in London at the moment, so of course I went to see The Great Gatsby, even though it has received distinctly mixed reviews both in the press and on the web.
It was only when I was handed the 3D glasses that the full import of the ‘CGI spectacular effects’ dawned on me; that ‘it’s big, it’s brash, colourful and it’s action packed’ aesthetic began to sink in. I’d read that there was also an anachronistic modern score too to jangle our sensibilities. It was all going to be rather loud and discordant, wasn’t it?
My overall review of the film would be classic fence sitting: I both liked it and disliked it. The aspect of it I particularity disliked was the 3D-ness of it. I’ve only seen one other film in 3D, as the type of films that are usually made in that format don’t appeal to me; and now, having seen The Great Gatsby, I know that the format itself appeals to me even less. It was too swishy and swoopy to be comfortable viewing; in scenes where two characters were simply in a room talking to each other, for example in the film’s framing device of Tobey Maguire, as Nick Carraway, recounting the story to his shrink in later life, the focus would shift suddenly from one face looming out of the screen at us, to the other in the background. At times I found it more comfortable to take the 3D glasses off and watch the blurred images on the screen instead.
The musical score, on the other hand, I quite enjoyed, apart from those moments when a recognisable track from the 2010s was shoe horned in.
For all the action and noise associated with the depiction of the parties thrown by Gatsby in the hope that Daisy would come to one of them, my attention wandered. It was impossible to feel engaged with the story or characters during all the whizzbang of the imagery, and then, somehow, the smaller moments failed to hook me back in. Having said that, I did enjoy watching Leonardo Dicaprio looking good in a suit, with a hopeful, not quite confident smile on his face trying to woo Carey Mulligan’s Daisy. I also thought Joel Edgerton was well cast as Tom, a careless yet powerful figure, with the right amount of allure and bullying threat about him.
What I missed in the telling however was the notion that Nick Carraway is an unreliable narrator, as seduced by what Gatsby appears to be and what he can give him, as Daisy is. Instead the film gives us Tobey Maguire recounting the story as a somewhat bumbling observer, rather than a full participant with his own agenda. And what of poor Myrtle? Surely we need to see more of her to feel more affected by her killing? Showing us a 3D slow-motion sequence of car hitting human seemed like a cheap way to shock.
I’m glad I’ve seen the film, as there is one scene of real drama, in a sweltering hotel room in New York, when Gatsby and Tom face off, and Daisy finally reveals that she will not leave Tom. The characters face each other, tightly wound and desperate, saying angry words that will turn the tide of their lives, and the drama works, without any cinematic trickery or music, by allowing the actors to perform.
Have you seen it? What did you think?