A complicated romance with social commentary galore.
Jack Clayton's The Great Gatsby (1974) is a lush take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's poignant novel filled with visual metaphors critiquing the affluence and apathy of the wealthy. Francis Ford Coppola's screenplay is a gripping dramatic pull that captures the difficult romance in Gatsby, while focusing in on the misery of all involved.
Clayton's direction is fascinating as he exudes lavish wealth in his visual style, while simultaneously mocking the extravagance with his ultra bright lights and shining ornate decorations. Clayton captures the enjoyment from parties and material things that the upper classes enjoy daily, while also ensuring the audience understands nothing they own gives them happiness. Clayton puts the opulence out front and the misery of the fortunate on display. You do not feel bad for these characters because they are rich, but because they are so pitiful that they cannot appreciate all they have or who they have in their lives. Clayton's direction is simply marvelous and apt for The Great Gatsby.
Douglas Slocombe's cinematography is clever in every scene. Whether we witness Daisy's pain through her eyes or Gatsby's longing in his reflection through a mirror, the visual choices are ravishing to the viewer's eyes. The many tracking shots and neat close-ups really emanate the sorrow of the leading pair. Gatsby alone in his pool or Daisy wasting away in a lawn chair are particularly memorable scenes.
The set design is stunning detailed mansions and radiant expensive objects. The outfits are period accurate and sophisticated with neat white color schemes for a refined palette aesthetic. The score from Nelson Riddle is delightful and fun with many old sounding tunes playing away for a salad days sonic atmosphere. Riddle's flair for the dramatic and romantic scenes is where he shines brightest with hazy sounds caressing characters with melodic bliss.
Robert Redford is perfectly cast as Jay Gatsby. Redford demonstrates Gatsby's longing and loneliness with a profound empathy for the character. Redford displays some of his most understated acting with his use of his pained eyes or uncertain face desperate for Daisy's love and affection. Redford takes the laconic hero and transforms him into a character study of a man with everything except love. Redford is ever the charming gentleman as he woos the audience and Daisy alike.
Mia Farrow is surprisingly dreamy as the selfish shallow Daisy Buchanan looking for love in her man's wallet. Farrow captures Daisy's cheap attitude and changing desire with a cold heart and a pleasant smile. Farrow clearly understands how delicate the balance in Daisy's character must be. She is playing an unlikable rich lady that must also be convincing as a woman worthy of Gatsby's love. Farrow plays the heroine romantic leading lady and the dangerous femme fatale simultaneously with a zealous vigor.
Bruce Dern is shockingly vile as the villainous cheater Tom Buchanan. His apathy towards his wife's feelings is as disturbing as his callous cheating on his wife. Dern captures the sleazy selfishness of a wealthy white man who is racist, cruel, violent, and jealous all while he still selfishly considers himself the victim. Dern is excellent as Tom.
I must mention how much I loved Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway. Waterston is likable and charming in a realistic way. He builds up a grounded display as the observer of Gatsby's story, while also getting caught up in the wildly lavish lifestyle of the wealthy. Waterston gives a haunting performance as a man enchanted by Gatsby's charms, love humanity, decency, and grace and not his wealth. He is witnessing and recounting Gatsby's story back to us as the narrator beautifully. Waterston certainly comprehends how touched Carraway is by Gatsby's impact.
Lastly, The Great Gatsby contains several nice supporting roles as well. Karen Black is fun as Myrtle Wilson with her hectic lifestyle and cruel remarks. Scott Wilson is phenomenal as the poor George Wilson. Wilson is ever present in his scenes with a frightened knowing look that says he understands what is actually occurring. Finally, Roberts Blossom is excellent as Gatsby's old father. His wearied eyes reveal a long pain and deep understanding of his son's suffering that is fascinating to watch.
Overall, I found The Great Gatsby to be highly entertaining and riveting in its cinematic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel. The romance and friendship is endearing, while the drama and intrigue is highly engaging. Redford and Farrow are the key star performance that elevate the film with their mystifying acting, but the film itself is quite impressive too!