Director: Jack Clayton
Notable Actors: Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston
The first film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece involved a lot of big Hollywood names, including Robert Redford, who starred as the title character, and Francis Ford Coppola, who wrote the screenplay soon after completing work on the first of The Godfather movies. Director Jack Clayton’s approach in adopting Fitzgerald’s novel involved staying true to the original story as well as depicting the Jazz Age culture of the 1920s with historical accuracy. Although contemporary critics praised the film for these attributes, as well as for Redford’s acting and Coppola’s writing, they also criticized the film for its lack of emotional resonance. As New York Times film critic Vincent Canby put it: “The sets and costumes and most of the performances are exceptionally good, but the movie itself is as lifeless as a body that's been too long at the bottom of a swimming pool.” Even so, the film remains useful to students of the novel for the way it brings to life an accurate vision of Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age world.
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Notable Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire
Compared to Jack Clayton’s historically precise adaptation, Baz Luhrmann’s version of Fitzgerald’s novel seems wildly flamboyant. This is particularly the case with Luhrmann’s vibrant use of more contemporary music, which gives the film’s Jazz Age atmosphere a twenty-first century edge. Although Luhrmann mostly remained faithful to the source material, he introduced a couple of changes to Nick Carraway’s frame story. The film opens with Nick receiving treatment for alcoholism at a psychiatric hospital, where a doctor encourages him to commit his memoirs to paper. The film then concludes with Nick completing his book and titling it The Great Gatsby. As with Clayton’s adaptation, Luhrmann’s received mixed reviews from critics, who in large part felt that the film lacked substance despite its high production value and strong performances. Critic Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal put it thus: “it’s a spectacle in search of a soul.” In a contrasting view, one of Fitzgerald’s granddaughters reportedly praised the film for its strong sense of style, positing that Fitzgerald himself would have approved.