When The Great Gatsby came out, I was desperate to see it. The trailer captured all the vibrant, cinematic elements that made Baz Luhrmann’s earlier masterpiece, Moulin Rouge, so great.
So I immersed myself in the razzle dazzle of the world that Fitzgerald created, which Luhrmann brings so vividly to life on the screen.
But as the end credits rolled, I found myself nursing a feeling of disappointment. It wasn’t a bad film. There are plenty of things about it to praise: the performances, the visuals, the music. I even shed a tear at the end.
No matter how much I wanted to love The Great Gatsby, it just couldn’t eclipse Moulin Rouge.
The two films have a lot of similarities; it’s easy to see that Luhrmann has taken some of the elements that made Moulin Rouge so successful and brought them to his adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated novel. The visual style is clearly his. Yet it doesn’t quite work.
How can that be when everything is in place for it to be a sensation?
Unfortunately, The Great Gatsby just doesn’t have the emotional power at its core that made Moulin Rouge one of my all-time favourite films.
There are a few key differences between the two films that prevent Gatsby from becoming Luhrmann’s best work.
To be fair to Baz Luhrmann, many of the film’s limitations come from the original text. Whilst it’s a classic novel, The Great Gatsby is style over substance; the plot is slim.
So the film becomes a vacuous affair, all wild parties and bold recreations of a decadent era. But scratch the surface and there’s not a lot going on underneath.
As the film is rather vacuous, so too are the characters, particularly the heroine, Daisy Buchanan. A beautiful party girl, she is swept away in a love affair, only to abandon it as soon things turn sour, regardless of the consequences.
At least the characters in Moulin Rouge had redeeming qualities. On the surface they were show folk, painted and eager to be rich and famous. But underneath they had troubles and passions and kind hearts. They made sacrifices for each other. Their human qualities made it much easier to connect with the story and become caught up in their lives, to be devastated by the ending.
In The Great Gatsby, it is hard to find anyone to empathise with, so it is hard to be moved by their tragedies.
The majority of the Gatsby cast are fantastic. I loved Joel Edgerton’s performance as the domineering, brash Tom Buchanan, all booming voice and drunken scorn. Carey Mulligan made a lovely Daisy, vulnerable yet distant with an instinct for self-preservation. As ever, Leonardo DiCaprio was amazing.
My problem was Tobey Maguire. I’ve never been too keen on him, especially when he’s playing leading roles. My favourite Maguire film is Wonder Boys, where his offbeat energy works well for the character of writer James Leer.
On the surface, Maguire is quite similar to Moulin Rouge’s leading man, Ewan McGregor. They are both known for playing nice guys, softer characters, alongside their edgier roles. But where McGregor’s charm, naivety and joy for life helped bring Moulin Rouge alive, Maguire is overshadowed throughout The Great Gatsby. It’s his job to tell us the story, but the only time he made me care was towards the end as events came to a dramatic conclusion.
I so badly wanted to love The Great Gatsby as much as I loved Moulin Rouge. It’s a good film; I’ll probably watch it again. But it just didn’t have the intensity of Luhrmann’s earlier film, despite the similarities in style.