When I put down The Great Gatsby a few weeks ago, I watched the trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s new extremely stylized film adaptation. On one hand, it looks like it’ll be fun to watch but I had a feeling it was going to take a lot of liberties when it comes to the source material. Oh, and Nick Carraway portrayed by Tobey MaGuire? I don’t know about that. I’m sure time will tell.
Anywho, apparently way back in 1974, Hollywood took it’s third shot at putting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel on the silver screen and cast some serious tinsel town heavyweights in the process. In the starring role, you’ve got the always reliable Robert Redford as the mysterious Gatsby with “Hang ‘Em High McCoy”, Sam Waterston, playing his buddy Nick Carraway. Oh, and Daisy is portrayed by the stunning Mia Farrow and her husband Tom is brought to life by Bruce Dern.
Performance wise, Redford can convincingly play the dual personalities required for Jay Gatsby showcasing both a boyhood charm as well as that perceived front of arrogance he commonly displays for his party guests. His eventual antagonist in that of Tom Buchanan is portrayed excellently by Bruce Dern and to really hate a guy like Gatsby, ignoring Gatsby’s relentless pursuit of his wife Daisy, you really need to play the insufferable prick card and Dern plays the hell out of it.
Waterston is fantastic, giving that quiet and understated irritability on the part of Carraway life. There’s parts of the novel where you can just tell that Nick is running short of patience and finds it hard to put up with any of these self-indulgent jerks. Mia Farrow plays the role of Daisy quite well, doing her part to make sure she comes off as irresistible as possible. Her initial discovery of Gatsby’s presence at the home of Nick Carraway leaves you with a feeling of missed opportunity and regret without relaying to the viewer any hard facts about their sordid history.
Finally, I just want to add that I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t point out the true unsung hero of the movie. Scott Wilson absolutely kills it as George Wilson, the husband of Tom’s “woman in New York”. How this man did not win an Academy Award for this role is beyond me – although, it could have something to do with going up against The Godfather: Part II that year.
If you’re looking for a more accurate and traditional screen translation of The Great Gatsby, I’d say this is your best bet. I did do a little snooping around online and noticed that a lot of people think the movie is pretty average and overall, not that great of an adaptation. Sure, it’s not nearly as excellent as the book, as I said in my review, what Fitzgerald had going for him in the novel was his spellbinding writing, something you can’t adequately feature in a movie. However, it’s hard for me to see a whole lot of fault in it. It stuck to it’s source material and remained pretty conservative with regards to changing anything at all and that’s what seems to concern most in a feature film representation.