Gatsby hits the big screen

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Like those famous mansion parties in West Egg, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby offers a whirlwind of flashy spectacles and loud music. It wasn’t until Jay Gatsby took the stage that the film enveloped me in its beautiful story of a man’s struggle and tragedy. Once I made it past all the pomp and rapidity of the first scenes, The Great Gatsby instantly tugged on my heartstrings and became a film worth adding to my collection.

Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel of the same name, Luhrmann’s film adaptation is faithful to the book, with some minor yet interesting differences. Taking place in New York City during the 1920s, the film focuses on Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire) and his experience with the ridiculously wealthy and mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Nick gets involved with Gatsby’s life mission to rekindle the lost love of Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and effectively live out his dream.

The film’s cast was magnificent, the visuals were breathtaking, and the emotional scenes were so realistic that I found myself warning Gatsby to stay away from Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

DiCaprio’s performance was top notch. He made Gatsby seem noble, cultured, and even pathetically hopeful at times. DiCaprio performed Gatsby’s emotional moments fantastically, and even added a hint of subtlety in his debut scenes that only veterans of the book could catch. Maguire did an excellent job as Nick Carraway. Sure, he mostly ponders, feels out of place, and winds up as an awkward third wheel most of the time, but he’s faithful to the book’s character.

Joel Edgerton’s character was a little weak. Tom seemed too much like the stereotypical bad guy, right down to the creepy mustache and the fancy cigar. Only briefly does he show emotion, but despite this, he did a great job of making me hate him. Mulligan, playing the role of the illustrious Daisy Buchanan, wasn’t stellar either. She didn’t do much to make her performance stand out, but was just the ignorant rich girl who manipulated Gatsby.

Despite the talented cast, the opening scenes were noticeably weak. The first 30 minutes or so moved way too quickly. Key parts in the beginning of the book were reduced to mere sound bites as Nick jumped from dinner with the Buchanans to parties with Gatsby. It was hard to keep up with the story and the pace became almost nauseating. The effects and visuals were exaggerated as well, seeming unnecessary and almost cartoonish at times.

When Nick first sees Gatsby smile, it’s complimented with fireworks, dramatic music, and a slow motion camera. When Tom takes his mistress to his classy New York Hotel room, there just happens to be a trumpet player across the street setting the mood the entire night.

The music was downright strange. It wasn’t the mix of pop and jazz that bothered me, but the placement of the music. When Nick and Gatsby are having their first conversation while speeding down through the Valley of Ashes, I didn’t need to hear Jay-Z rapping.

Overall, the beginning seemed too over-the top and explosive. I literally felt like Nick walking through one of Gatsby’s crazy parties.

Besides the absurdity of the opening scenes, The Great Gatsby really ties together as a great movie. Just like the book, the film doesn’t really capture you until you notice that silhouette reaching out to the green light in the distance.

Luhrmann may have gotten a little ahead of himself with the beginning, but he couldn’t have chosen better actors to portray such timeless characters. Now I’m just waiting to see if their performances are deemed Oscar-worthy.