As required reading for most high schoolers, The Great Gatsby is a story many people know or have at least heard of. My initial reaction at the great American novel getting the silver screen treatment was skeptical and remains that way after shelling out $9 to watch it in theaters.
If Leonardo DiCaprio couldn’t nab an Academy Award for his work in Quentin Tarantino’s award-winning “Django: Unchained,” the odds of him finally getting an Oscar nod for “Gatsby” are slim. Teamed up again with “Romeo + Juliet” director Baz Luhrmann, DiCaprio plays a convincing, eccentric Jay Gatsby. His dire tactics to win back the heart of the married and disillusioned Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) are brought to life in a less than spectacular blockbuster.
In a move to keep the novel on the minds of viewers, Gatsby uses Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as the narrator of the tale. After finding himself a central player in the events that lead to the demise of Gatsby, Carraway drowns his sorrows in alcohol and hits rock bottom. The film revolves around Carraway writing the story of Gatsby down as a therapeutic method. This leads to visual effects such as letters cascading down the screen to form sentences from the novel, and a mediocre Maguire having far too many voice overs, quoting passages from Gatsby.
Luhrmann’s style of mixing modern elements (such as music) into period pieces remains intact, just as in “Moulin Rouge” and “Romeo + Juliet.” The cinematography makes up for some of the poor acting (or choices in actors)–even if the actors aren’t doing the characters justice, they are still pretty to look at. The gorgeous clothing, grand automobiles, and extravagant party scenes make “Gatsby” entertaining to watch. However, the use of the soundtrack could have been improved.
Executive produced by Jay-Z, the soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard in awhile. Starting off with Jay-Z’s “100$ Bill”, utilizing snippets of audio from the film, it immediately sucks the listener in. Throughout the album, the influence of 1920s jazz can be heard, in some songs more than others.
One of the best tracks to utilize music from the Gatsby era is will.i.am’s “Bang Bang.” A unique blend of 1920s jazz and the type of bass-heavy music you hear in clubs today, the song was perfect for the lavish party sequences at Gatsby’s manor… if they would have turned it up in the film. This is not a song that can be listened to quietly.
A couple of the more powerful songs come from Jack White and Florence + the Machine. “Love is Blindness” feels like Jay Gatsby’s anthem, with the classic Jack White sound: heavy distortion and drums, desperately sang lyrics, and a sense of doom lurking around the corner. Florence, the recent queen of movie soundtracks and trailers, delivers with “Over the Love”, calling up imagery from the story (“now there’s green light in my eyes”–Gatsby stares longingly at the Buchanan’s dock that has a green beacon of light).
The song that stands out and leaves the listener wanting more is the collaboration between Andre 3000 and Beyonce. “Back to Black” starts off with a mesmerizing electronic “womp” (dubstep style) that continues as the base of the melody, mixed with simplistic guitar to accentuate the vocals. By the time Beyonce sings the final note, you can’t help but wonder why the song is already over.
Overall, “The Great Gatsby” does what most blockbuster films do these days: entertains the viewer for a little over two hours and leaves them with a lighter pocketbook. Instead of spending money on seeing the film, wait to watch it online and buy the soundtrack.
By Kelli Tokos