The not-so-great ‘Great Gatsby’

Published: May 25, 2013

Although the movie was a bit too long, Luhrmann’s attempt to use 3D images to capture the despondent lifestyle of amoral 1920s America was an interesting way of bringing the novella to life. PHOTO:

I’ve always been disappointed by movies based on books that I’ve read because the director usually fails to bring the literary ingenuity to justice in the film. That’s why I made sure I didn’t read The Great Gatsby when I watched the movie, so that I could witness Baz Luhrmann’s magic on screen without constantly comparing it to the book. After all, he did a pretty decent job with Moulin Rouge and Australia!

The Great Gatsby starts off with Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a depressed insomniac, trapped in a sanatorium, going down memory lane and recounting the days of his enigmatic youth. He keeps mentioning ‘Gatsby’, and how Gatsby changed his entire outlook on life.

We witness Luhrmann’s interpretation of the wild, roaring, notorious, materialistic and wealthy American life of the 1920s filled with glitz, glamour, parties, and rambunctious effervescence and grandeur.

The 3D images try to capture the essence of a thriving New York in all its extravagant splendour and exuberant vigour.

Nick Carraway is one such Yale graduate living amidst New York’s thriving and opulent economy, making his way into the bond business. We are then introduced to Nick’s extravagantly wealthy relatives, his distant cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her supercilious husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

Luhrmann goes way overboard in trying to capture the careless, superficial and wealthy lifestyle of the Buchanan household with the camera zooming in on the billowing white curtains that leave Nick stunned, as well as the shots of a bored, and superficial Daisy lying on a gargantuan couch, dressed in white, filled with opulent rapture, and desiring to do something fantastic with her lazy life.

We find out that Nick lives in the fictional village of West Egg, right next door to a mysteriously famous man named Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) who throws extravagantly lavish parties. The movie unfolds with Nick being invited to Gatsby’s grand festival. Later, we come to know that Gatsby has had an affair with Daisy in the past, and is still in love with her.

The entire movie centres around Gatsby’s tragic obsession with Daisy, his undying love for her and his objective in life, which is to marry Daisy.

He wants to devote his life to Daisy’s happiness by showering her with his opulent wealth. Throughout the movie, one gets a sense of the decadence and discontent seeping into the rich American lifestyle, as the characters are dissatisfied with their spouses and having affairs on the sidelines.

The pursuit of the American dream seems to be the central theme in the movie, and one can guess that this is something that is entirely an illusion as the central characters are absolutely miserable with their haughty, extravagant lifestyles filled with hollowness, loneliness and debauchery.

So after 143 minutes of enduring an overly exaggerated extravaganza that resembled a complex mix of a zombie movie gone astray, mixed with an attempt to display a colourful 3D imitation of Alice in Wonderland , and Anna Karenina, what’s my verdict?

Luhrmann is best suited towards producing musicals, and The Great Gatsby may have been better off as a tragic musical.

However, I immediately read the classic novel after watching the movie and discovered that Luhrmann actually did his best to stick as close as possible to the beautifully written novella by Fitzgerald.

He may have gone a tad bit too far with all the ecstatic opulence and the wild parties with Jay-Z songs blaring in the background (an attempt to modernise the audience’s vision of the American jazz age?), but he truly did his best and one can see that after reading the book.

Although the movie was a bit too long, Luhrmann’s attempt to use 3D images to capture the despondent lifestyle of amoral 1920’s America was an interesting way of bringing the novella to life.

Moreover, his extravagant display of the luxurious, wild, and excessive splendour of Gatsby’s parties was his way of depicting how hollow the pursuit of wealth actually is, and somehow, the disillusionment of the characters became more and more obvious through the riotous, ritzy and exuberant wasteland known as 1920s New York.

Leonardo DiCaprio is absolutely charismatic as the Great Gatsby, filled with an obsessive passion for the girl he loves. He brings the character of Gatsby to life beautifully, but we have already seen DiCaprio play the tragic lover boy who would easily die for the girl he loves in Titanic and Rome and Juliet, so his performance is nothing new.

Carey Mulligan is appropriate as the selfish Daisy, and Elizabeth Debicki is passable as Jordan Baker (a friend of Daisy’s). Tobey Maguire barely has any role to play and is merely relegated to the role of acting as the mouthpiece of the movie, reading out Fitzgerald’s prose in an attempt to give the movie the same sort of melancholic splendour as the novella.

The cameo appearance of Amitabh Bachchan (Meyer Wolfsheim) as a scrupulous bootlegger is absolutely horrible.

However, Luhrmann should have left Fitzgerald’s masterpiece alone and perhaps made a movie out of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.


Follow Filza on Twitter @FilzaNaveed


Filza Naveed

Currently pursuing an M.A in Cultural Studies at Queen's University. Passionate about the intersection of culture and politics. A freelance writer, poet, and coffeeholic.. She tweets @FilzaNaveed

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Nandita.

    I want to read ‘The Great Gatsby’, actually there are so many classics that I want to read but I don’t know where to find all the books ! :(
    I’ve checked a few book stores in India but there’re not available there. What do I do ?Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Silver screens have their own requirement, movies are there to attract wider audience, and they usually don’t delve into the details and scenes that are the basic nuts and bolts of any literary piece. You can’t compare the two.

    The Great Gatsby is a masterpiece, i’m talking about the novel, whatever the movie portrays it cannot by any means replicate the texture and allure, the symbolism and poetic rendering of Fitzgerald.

    I’m sure most of the people would want to watch the movie, instead of picking up this book first, but I must say if you haven’t read the book you really shouldn’t get excited about the movie. Recommend

  • Karim

    Whatever you will say in the end you will see Dicaprio will get the Oscar :PRecommend

  • Anshuman Tripathy

    @Nandita Never heard of flipkart eh?Recommend

  • Sara

    Great Review! The movie was absolutely too full of glitter and parties. And it just kept dragging on and on. Like the director could have done a much better job if he had cut down on the exaggeration. Yes, the book was way better and it should never have been made into a movieRecommend

  • Jackie

    This is a horribly written review. Are you seriously criticizing the extravagance of the film? You obviously did not get the book, or what Fitzgerald was trying to convey if that is your only criticism. And if you want to be a better writer, I would suggest you tone down the pretentiousness of your vocabulary and improve the amateur tone and voice of the article.Recommend

  • Ghana

    Great Review! Very insightful. Couldn’t agree moreRecommend

  • Max

    A very apt analysis.Recommend

  • binger

    are you telling the whole storyRecommend

  • Amin

    “Spoiler alert” on the start would have been great Author!!! Very uncool Ms. Author!!Recommend

  • SO MANY ADJECTIVES!!!!!! OMG.Recommend

  • Gary
  • Parvez

    Having seen the Robert Redford, Mia Farrow version in 1974, some how I don’t think I’d like to see this new version.Recommend

  • M Islam

    Way to go, Filza!
    Enjoyed reading this. you do write very well!Recommend

  • Scotchpak

    Fransis ford copolla’s rendition was more balanced than the recent “extravegenza” Recommend

  • Nandita.


    Wow ! Thanks a ton :)Recommend


    I don’t know what kind of mindset you go to watch the movies in…there are hardly ever any movies adapted from a book as good as the book…you know why? cause when you read the book you use your imagination….similarly the people who make the movie use theirs….also comparing Leo’s performance with his performance in Titanic…shows how little you know of his acting and his movies…if you had seen blood diamond and Django unchained you wouldn’t be saying this. Now lets come to the glitz and glamour…have you previously seen Baz Luhman’s work before? if you had you wouldn’t have been surprised…this movies reeks of his signature style….and even if I hadn’t known it was his movie….I would have guessed….so please avoid writing such reviews if you have only seen a few chick flicks in your life and don’t know what a true cinematic experience is like…or maybe Great Gatsby is a start for you!Recommend

  • hemlock

    This is quite an unfortunate review of a movie that’s perhaps worthy of half a dozen Oscar nominations, if not the awards themselves.
    The movie was as true to the novel as it possibly could be, and the musical score was fantastic, as was the cinematography.
    Amateur writers who know little to nothing about art and classics should not be reviewing them. Recommend

  • Ria

    An excellent review! The movie received a 50 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Considering that and after watching the movie and a dozen other reviews, I think Ms. Author did a very good job in giving a balanced review. For those of you complaining, she does point out DiCaprio’s good acting skills, and how the director used 3D effectively. It’s only in the end that she dismisses the movie, and says the novel is better, which it undoubtedly is. People need to relax and accept that blogs are just a person’s opinion, not the opinions of the masses! A well-written and balanced review. Recommend

  • Reetz

    Lady i guess u went to the wrong cinema hall… Ashique2 was next door! … No book, no jay z, no opulence… Hence a rest to the overworked brain….Recommend

  • Ayesha

    This review was a pleasure to read. Beautifully written, and it points out the wonderful things about the movie such as the brilliant effects of 3D, praises Luhrmann where he deserves to be praised and, acknowledges DiCaprio’s charisma! And yes, the movie was a bit too exaggerated and failed to be as great as Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. Brilliant Review!Recommend

  • Arya

    OMG! I couldn’t agree more with the blog writer. I love love the book but the movie just over exaggerated everything. Leonardo was the only good thing in the entire movie. Very good review, Filza. I really enjoyed reading your beautiful blog, filled with deep critique. Recommend

  • Jon

    This review was splendid. This movie received a lot of harsh reviews elsewhere as well. Loved your use of the adjectives synonymous to Luhrmann’s exaggeration. Great job!Recommend

  • Alia

    A great pleasure to read! You truly write very well, Filza!Recommend

  • Ali

    A very insightful review on the movie. I love how this review has sparked both good comments and bad ones, the same sentiments that the movie has sparked with has received mixed reviews from critics. I also agree with how Bachchan was misplaced in this movie.Recommend

  • Surrina

    A wonderful read! You point out both the pros and cons of the movieRecommend

  • Sarfaraz Abbasi

    Don’t tread one someone’s style of reviewing that’s what she thinks and what you think is indifferent to us. It matters not how many films she has seen (dozens maybe) and yet she has done the job better way ’round. My opinion is that despite her problem with duration of the film and glitz and glamor; well that’s what the book was all about and frankly the people at the Academy would find it much better than we who come from third-world country, for because our perspective view of America in 1920s is invaluable to their cherishing and thriving memories of one of the golden periods in American history.

    Sarfaraz Abbasi
    Larkano (Sindh – PAK)Recommend

  • Sarfaraz Abbasi

    Karim that’s not gonna happen, take my word for it (not because he isn’t a good actor he’s one of the best) but because his much better performances have previously been unnoticed! Recommend

  • Sarfaraz Abbasi

    This is no mystery film that writing about it might alert spoiler :-) as a matter of fact reviews are always about operating whole movie! Recommend

  • Sam

    This is one of the best reviews on the Great Gatsby that I have read. Even though the title suggests otherwise, this review takes into account both the pros and cons of the movie very intelligently. I suggest to all those who are criticizing like crazy to actually read the review properly instead of making judgments based on merely skimming the page. I have read tons and tons of terrible reviews of the movie all over. This writer acknowledges that Leonardo was good, that Luhrmann stuck as close as possible as he could to the book and that the 3D effects and the melodrama helped to bring out the theme of the novel. Lastly, this is just an opinion so no need to go all crazy about the writer’s views. Good job!Recommend

  • Ateeq

    A very well-thought out and beautiful review! You need to understand that film critics and movie reviewers are usually harsh in their analysis. there’s no reason to start getting all vehement about their movie views. just enjoy your movies and chill!Recommend

  • Hasan

    I very enjoyable read. This review was so much better than the other reviews on the Great Gastby. Recommend

  • Parth

    I agree with the reviewer on all points! This movie was soooo bad! Go watch Iron Man 3 guys. This writer praised the movie far too much for my taste.Recommend

  • Aleem

    This was an excellent piece on the highs and lows of the Great Gatsby. Those hating it have probably not bothered reading this review properly. It described the movie in a wonderful way. I think people forget that this is just a movie that needs to be enjoyed and that reviewers have their own opinions. You write extremely well!Recommend

  • Sadia

    This review described everything that I felt about the movie when I went to see it. Overly exaggerated and way too long. The reviewer has actually pointed out the beautiful parts of the movie as well, such as Leonardo’s acting skills and Luhrmann’s interesting use of 3D. It was very entertaining and fresh to read!Recommend

  • http://lahore K. Salim Jahangir

    The movie is as good as the novel itself & the review,of course, well worded & beautifully written by Filza Naveed! Realism & movie expression are two different things. One enjoyed the movie. Recommend

  • http://NewYorkCityUSA The Observer

    This is a pathetic review. This story is about a culture that is foreign to the reviewer. You have to understand the vast culture of US to know why the details were worked in the movie. If you reflect you can see the carelessness of an opulent society. This is something Pakis should know because you see it everyday in your own elites.

    A wonderful movie indeed. A true portrayal of a society that will always exist no matter how advance we get. Recommend

  • http://lahore K. Salim Jahangir

    @The Observer,you may express your views as you have,but please do not call Pakistanis, “Pakis”.One has taken a strong exception to your derogatory remark.Thank you!Recommend

  • Sa

    A really lackluster review, and it doesn’t tell anything about the movie. I believe the review was written after reading about reviews of the novel. There are numerous mistakes of articles but the review is heavily bombarded with adjective of all stripes and kinds.Good that you attempted Filza but try to do better next time.Recommend


    @Sarfaraz Abbasi
    A movie review should not depict the writers personal opinion…it should be unbiased….and should be based on the technical aspects; story, script, acting, direction, cinematography, special effects etc….and should come from someone who knows what they are talking about and not make ridiculous comparisons….though the writer did a pretty good job overall but she ruined it at the end….and if you have a third world country complex then I would suggest you should watch Iranian, Korean, French, Spanish & German movies and learn what the world of cinema is really like….I have seen more movies than you can count and it irks me to see such amateurs reviewing a perfectly fantastic movie but as I previously said, the writer needs more exposure and understanding of cinema!Recommend

  • The Observer

    @K. Salim Jahangir: that is just too bad. Why do you think your people earned the name Paki? What did they do to deserve that name? Perhaps they tried to abuse the system like filthying up their neighborhoods, scamming the welfare system. I can go on but it’s not necessary. You ought to get the point Paki. Recommend

  • Samaa

    Dear author, you’ve done okay job although you ruined ending. but why people fighting each other here? they are immatureRecommend

  • Fred Joseph

    Don’t worry Salim, one can very clearly deduce that The Observer is as racist as he/she is a coward (afraid of publishing his identity). Calling Pakistanis “Paki” is the same as calling African Americans “Negros” or may be he calls them names too. Please don’t take him too serious.Recommend

  • http://lahore K. Salim Jahangir

    @Observer… is better that you remain within the limits of decency….A Pakistani is proud of his name & nationality. Recommend

  • Raj

    Luhrmann has always been better suited to producing movies that mimic GLEE. This movie could have avoided imitating a circus. Luhrmann butchered an amazing bookRecommend

  • Zair

    “his failure to capture the heart of the book is not Luhrmann’s only failure, critics say. The film never crosses the two-star mark, often falling to a single lonely star. Anthony Quinn ridicules the flamboyant appearance of the film in the The Independent as being “garish, hyperbolic”. “Gatsby…appears framed against a burst of fireworks – boom! – with Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” reaching its majestic climax. If he’d jumped out of a cake it couldn’t have been more spectacular,” jokes Quinn. “Luhrmann is…daring, and he connects to something in the story’s love-hate attitude to ostentation; it has energy, but not subtlety; dazzle, but not depth,” he declares.There may be worse movies this summer than The Great Gatsby, but there won’t be a more crushing disappointment,” laments Travers. The writing is on the wall – Gatsby sparkles but is not gold.”

  • Haseeb

    Seen some terrible pieces of writing appear in ET before but this is the absolute pits. Horrible review by a critic who clearly loves the word “opulent”.

    I Recommend

  • Maaz

    If you’re going to make a film depicting the 1920’s, at least have the soundtrack be from that era, which musically, was better anyway. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was famously racist (even for his era), would have strongly disapproved of the talentless ‘Urban’ music, as he would of the modern ethnic diversity displayed throughout the movie…remember, this book/film takes place in the WASP’y Hamptons of the early-20th Century, even if Gatsby was considered Progressive for that time, he would have been considered conservative by today’s standards. The parties were a little too over the top, being too much like a Circ de Soleil performance, even Fitzgerald who was a hard-core party-animal, would have been weirded-out by the films depictions of Gatsby’s parties. The film stayed true to the plot, but was otherwise unrecognizable. The best version of the film was made in 1949, if you can find it, it’s very worthwhile to watch, better than the Redford version.Recommend

  • Riaz

    A very interesting read! Kept me thoroughly entertained throughout!Recommend

  • http://internt gregorio molina cruz

    and good Recommend

  • Pankaj Sharma

    Well its a nice piece ‘Great Gatsby”Recommend

  • Shahid Khan

    Order at I’ve found them to be very efficient.Recommend