THE GREAT GATSBY
Author: JoAnne Hyde
May 9, 2013

SYNOPSIS: follows Fitzgerald-like, would-be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as he leaves the Midwest and comes to New York City in the spring of 1922, an era of loosening morals, glittering jazz, bootleg kings, and sky-rocketing stocks. Chasing his own American Dream, Nick lands next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her philandering, blue-blooded husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). It is thus that Nick is drawn into the captivating world of the super rich, their illusions, loves and deceits. As Nick bears witness, within and without of the world he inhabits, he pens a tale of impossible love, incorruptible dreams and high-octane tragedy, and holds a mirror to our own modern times and struggles. - Warner Bros. Pictures

How much you enjoy the newest incarnation of The Great Gatsby (there have been 4 previous versions) will most likely depend on two factors: whether or not you’re a fan of Baz Luhrmann’s over-the-top style of film-making, and whether or not you’re a purist about the original F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. As for me, I have mixed feelings about it. I don’t want to pan it, but I also can’t give it kudos as a great film. Who will enjoy the film for sure? Leonardo DiCaprio fans! As usual, this charismatic actor owns the screen.

Luhrmann’s strategies of shooting in 3-D and including rap music in the score – Jay-Z is a producer – are probably meant to attract a younger audience, but these techniques are also off-putting. I could see absolutely no reason that this film should have been shot in 3-D. It’s not an action film loaded with special effects. Plus, the music of the Jazz Age would most definitely have been enough to convey the changing social structure of the 1920’s. Cole Porter’s Let’s Misbehave,” included only briefly in the film, is a perfect anthem for that era. And indeed, the characters do misbehave!

Visually, the film explodes with color and quick-takes, reflecting the frenetic atmosphere of the Prohibition culture of the 1920’s. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop the film from dragging in places. Being “slow” was the most prevalent criticism of the previous incarnations of the novel – understandable since the languid pace of the novel was supposed to reflect the apathy of the bored wealthy of the time. Luhrmann is caught between a rock and a hard place as he attempts to speed up the pace while remaining mostly faithful to the original narrative. Of course, he does play fast and loose with the original story, a technique that both succeeds and fails. His decision to frame the narrative with a major departure from the novel definitely weakens its power, but altering the ending to render it more melancholy and poignant restores the tone of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.

Leonardo DiCaprio is riveting as the mysterious Gatsby. He’s man who’s worldy and wise, but naïve socially. Living on the “wrong side” of the bay in West Egg, his enormous wealth and gaudy show of it have all come about to impress Daisy Buchanan, an old-moneyed former love. Daisy and her husband Tom live on the “right” side of the bay in East Egg. The two “Eggs” are fictional towns on Long Island. Gatsby believes that you can repeat the past, but as the story’s narrator, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) points out, you cannot. One can be haunted by the past or trapped in it as Gatsby is. Gatsby’s life is a lie, as Nick discovers, and the rumors about how he made his money aren’t even as fantastic as the real story. Prohibition marked the rise of organized crime in this country, and the heavy implication that Gatsby’s wealth came from his dealings in it should be obvious. For some reason, Gatsby tells Nick the truth about his past and enmeshes him in his hopeless attempt to regain Daisy’s love.

The review continues after the jump!

As Daisy, Carey Mulligan is a bit too spunky in her portrayal of the rich, spoiled, woman-child who will always choose the easiest path. Joel Edgerton hits the mark exactly with his portrayal of the brutish, bullying Tom Buchanan. Tom represents all that is negative about the moneyed class. He’s a controlling white supremacist who’s not above physical violence. Even though he openly keeps a mistress, Myrtle, brilliantly acted by Isla Fisher, his outrageous sense of entitlement keeps him from believing that his actions could have dreadful outcomes. In the novel, Daisy seems to have little will of her own, and as Nick points out in the novels most famous quotation, Tom and Daisy “smash things up” and leave others to clean up their messes while they retreat into their carelessness, shielded by their wealth.

Jason Clarke as Myrtle’s befuddled husband George Wilson, and Amitabh Bachchan as Gatsby’s underworld connection and mentor, both do an admirable job with their renditions of these characters. Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker, Daisy’s closest friend, except for her stunning wardrobe, is largely wasted in a role reduced from the novel’s original character.

The settings and costumes are the film’s strongest points of interest. The Great Gatsby was filmed entirely in Australia. Today’s Long Island is much too over-built to reflect the isolation of the grand estates of the era. Interior shots are lavish and lush, and the wardrobe choices are spectacular. The rap music and sometimes too modern make-up on the women characters do detract from the over-all effectiveness of the film. In fact, the film is strongest when Nick speaks Fitzgerald’s words from the novel in voice-over. Whether or not The Great Gatsby finds an audience remains to be seen. - J.A. Hyde

GRADE: B


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