Get PJ Media on your Apple

PJM Lifestyle

5 Ways Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby Could Have Been Great

Johnny Depp or Christian Bale would have been much better than the unconvincing DiCaprio. And why not Jennifer Lawrence or Natalie Portman instead of character actress Carey Mulligan?

by
John Boot

Bio

May 10, 2013 - 7:00 am

 

Baz Luhrmann’s splashy, extravagant, highly watchable 3-D remake of The Great Gatsby is certainly a vast improvement on the lackluster 1974 Robert Redford movie, but those hoping for a classic adaptation worthy of the Great American Novel are going to be disappointed. Here are five ways Luhrmann’s Gatsby could have been great.

5. A Better Lead Actor.

Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t an accomplished performer and his screen magnetism was largely linked to his boyish appeal. Now that’s gone, and nothing more interesting has come along to take its place. DiCaprio can’t convincingly play anguish, nor can he seem physically threatening (a scene in which he nearly comes to blows with Joel Edgerton, who plays his romantic rival Tom Buchanan, is almost laughable; Edgerton could flatten DiCaprio without even trying).

A better choice would have been Johnny Depp, who, like Gatsby, came from nowhere (Kentucky in the case of the actor, North Dakota in the case of the screen character) or Christian Bale, who has already showcased his ability to play the charming playboy in the Batman movies. It would have been a natural fit: Batman is basically Gatsby with a cape.

4. A More Disciplined Musical Score.

Luhrmann, whose films have been strongly associated with music (the DiCaprio-Claire Danes version of Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge,) obviously thought Gatsby would be a great way to work in one of his trademark mashups. Luhrmann cleverly deploys new versions of songs like Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love,” the latter done like a 1920s torch song that would have been listened to on a 78 rpm record.

But there are also contemporary rap songs featuring Kanye West and Jay-Z (an executive producer of the film), which seem thrown in to capture the imagination of today’s youth and throw off the sense of being transported to another time. Young people who aren’t interested in your themes and subject matter are not likely to be bought off with a little hip-hop, though. A soundtrack consisting entirely of familiar contemporary songs done in 1920s style would have been ingenious.  

3. A Snappier Third Act.

The movie, which is set mostly in and around the sumptuous Long Island Sound mansion of the mysterious zillionaire Jay Gatsby, makes excellent use of Tobey Maguire as the narrator and Gatsby’s friend Nick Carraway.

The movie features eye-popping sets, 3D effects, and costumes. The party scenes glitter. And when Gatsby finally reveals what he’s up to — using Carraway, the cousin of his ex-girlfriend Daisy (Carey Mulligan) whom he met at a World War I-era party in Louisville, Kentucky, to reconnect with his dream girl — the movie turns into an appealing love story.

But after the dazzle of the first 90 minutes, the third act turns on three long, talky scenes that lack dramatic tension, especially one set at the Plaza Hotel in New York City with Jay, Tom, Daisy and Nick that should be as gripping as a thriller. Luhrmann, whose talent lies mainly in devising elaborate song and dance scenes, is unable to keep the scene tight and the movie fades just when it should be finding an extra gear.

Similarly, an overwrought performance by Jason Clarke, as a gas station owner who plays a key role in the final minutes, makes his big scene maudlin instead of emotionally engaging.

2. An Unforgettable Daisy.

Carey Mulligan is fine as the girl in whom Gatsby invests all his dreams, but Mulligan, talented though she is, is essentially a character actress rather than a star who lights up the screen. She’s pretty, but she’s not the kind of figure that it’s easy to picture a rich and powerful man moving mountains for. In order to feel what Gatsby is feeling, we have to be as transfixed and obsessed by Daisy as he is.

How about Emma Watson, Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman or Keira Knightley?

1. A More Human Gatsby.

Luhrmann misses an opportunity when he cuts around the big confessional scene in which Gatsby pours out his heart about his hard-scrabble, Don Draper-like upbringing to Carraway.

This should have been the moment in which Gatsby transforms before our eyes from all-powerful playboy to scheming striver, but it takes place almost entirely offscreen. Not coincidentally, we never quite become emotionally attached to this somewhat oddball character, and the end seems more like a bummer than American literature’s greatest tragedy.

John Boot is the pen name of a conservative writer operating under deep cover in the liberal media.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
This is not finally about casting or score. Gatsby has never been made into a good movie, despite various tries, for a good reason: it doesn't have a good story for film, not enough plot. It's more of mood piece. The Last Tycoon, although it wasn't that well made, is potentially a much better movie, as is Tender is the Night. And, for that matter, various Fitzgerald short stories. Gatsby, no.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh boy, a movie set in the 1920's but with a hip-hip soundtrack by Jay-Z, and it's in 3-D for no reason whatsoever?

Pass.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (14)
All Comments   (14)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
You may be right that this story just isn't amenable to being made into a movie - but I still wonder if it might be possible with "a better lead actor." It's tricky because we need Gatsby to be likeable and sympathetic despite his sick obsession with Daisy. He's a bit of a crazed stalker and that just isn't likeable or sympathetic. For this reason, I think Charlie Sheen should have played Gatsby. Who does crazy yet likeable better than Charlie?
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
You mentioned Depp as a better Gatsby. Not sure I can agree.
When we went to see Gatsby on Saturday night, one of the previews was for The Lone Ranger (or whatever they are calling it this go around.)
Depp appears to play Tonto as a somewhat quieter Jack Sparrow.

I do have to agree with your assessment of DiCaprio versus Joel Edgerton in the Plaza Hotel scene. At no time would I ever believe that DiCaprio could threaten Mr. Edgerton, except maybe to bleed all over him if they got into a fight.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
The only star actress who could capture the Daisy who is seductive and hypnotic, yet whose voice still "sounds like money" is Anne Hathaway (And Daisy is a brunette! Why do they keep making her a blonde? In the novel, her own husband hesitates before classifying her as "Nordic.").

Agreed about DiCaprio. The actor has to be somewhat physically imposing, and able to be confident playboy, small-town dreamer, and a plausible gangster, yet never too slick or sophisticated. Strange as it may sound, I would nominate Brendan Fraser.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
According to Rotten Tomatoes, 48% of critics and 84% of movie goers who have seen Gatsby liked it. Thus, it's about an even split of the critics but more than 4 of 5 viewers approved. The last film with DiCaprio, Django Unchained, got 88% critical approval and 94% audience approval on Rotten Tomatoes, but that may be more for Jamie Foxx and Christopher Waltz than for Leo D.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t an accomplished performer and his screen magnetism was largely linked to his boyish appeal"

I agree that used to the the case (but for me it was UNappealing) - eg, Gangs of New York (which I still liked), but he's matured, and I thought his performances in The Aviator (of course, he def. didn't look the part), Blood Diamonds and Edgar J. were very good, especially the latter, though I haven't seen Gatsby or any other of his other recent movies.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Natalie Portman, really?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is not finally about casting or score. Gatsby has never been made into a good movie, despite various tries, for a good reason: it doesn't have a good story for film, not enough plot. It's more of mood piece. The Last Tycoon, although it wasn't that well made, is potentially a much better movie, as is Tender is the Night. And, for that matter, various Fitzgerald short stories. Gatsby, no.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're so right, Roger. So many attempts to bring Gatsby to the screen, and all failures. If you read the book it seeps into your soul like a mysterious fog. Period costumes and hot-cha-cha 1920s ambience have nothing to do with the essence of Gatsby and, as dreadful as Redford was in the title role, DiCaprio (as vacant an actor as ever drew a breath of air) would be unimaginably awful.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mr. Boot: While I haven't seen Gatsby yet and can't refute your specific complaints, if I didn't like DiCaprio, I wouldn't go see his movies, let alone spend my time writing lengthy reviews of them.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
You've really managed to remind me why I NEVER want to go to the movies with you.

Depp? He turns everything he does into a "look at what I'm doing!" freak show.

Christian Bale? Absurd. Simply absurd. And then you have to remind me of "Dark Knight Rises" - easily one of the bottom five films I've ever had to sit through. Horrible acting, horrible directing, horrible fight choreography, one of the worst scripts of all time... Hell, I'll bet the gaffer even did a bad job taping wires to the studio floor.

Even if you're driving, even if you're buying the popcorn and the Good 'n' Plentys, no way.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Carey Mulligan is simply not all that. She has an '80s body and a face that could go bad as one sobers up. Emma Watson is sexy enough without overstepping the bounds of ingenue.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're delusional.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
1 2 Next View All