Whenever a well-known book becomes a film the world is suddenly filled with experts on the source, and more often then not they do not know what they are talking about. I sometimes feel that filmmakers show more fidelity to the novels than critics who complain about alleged detours and changes. The same is true for The Great Gatsby. A personal favourite is an article in which the writer complained that they had changed the ending since Gatsby does not kill himself. [Spoiler alert, he does not kill himself in the book either, at least not in the versions I have read.] Yet whether any changes have been made is more or less immaterial, unless you do a compare and contrast study, specifically looking for the things that have been removed and added. The only thing that matters when evaluating the quality of the film is whether it is any good on its own, not how closely it follows the original work, a topic I have elaborated on earlier here.
To focus on the film, I liked it a lot. This was primarily because of Leo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan. The film has mainly be described as an extravagant party zone but I was pleasantly surprised by how sweet it often was, and it was when these two, Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, were together. They have an awkward date, drinking tea in a sea of flowers, and afterwards Gatsby take her on a tour of his majestic house. This was probably the highlight of the film, where the visual flourishes of Baz Luhrmann was held in check. Here the night really was tender. But it was not just that sequence, from start to finish I thought DiCaprio was excellent and convincing. It has been a long time since I saw an actor carry a film to such a degree as DiCaprio does here. It was a shame that Tobey Maguire, as Nick, was not his equal, but rather made the screen unbalanced when they had scenes together. With Mulligan the balance was just right. The other actors, although good, did not make much of an impression because the film, more than the book, was all about these three characters, Gatsby, Daisy and Nick.
The first 20 minutes or so of the film were rather annoying, because they were so forced and frenetic, with people screaming rather than speaking. Then things settled down, including the characters, and it was easier to enjoy the film. There was just one thing that got in the way. Nick's voice-over, which nearly ruined several scenes because it was so superfluous. It explained the scene for us, what we were seeing, and it was always unnecessary, not to say insulting. Apparently Luhrmann have very little regard for the emotional intelligence of the audience. But it was not so bad that I was not able to enjoy the film, all the way to the beautiful last scene.
This post is my contribution to a number of blog posts about The Great Gatsby from Swedish bloggers. Here are links to the others. The first one is in English, the others are in Swedish: