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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

THE GREAT GATSBY REVIEW




About The Movie:

The Great Gatsby explores the world of 1920s New York City, a mecca of decadence and exuberance that young Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) discovers as he relocates from the midwest to the rim of Long Island. Inhabiting a forgotten cottage amongst the sprawling estates of the newly rich, Carraway finds himself living in the shadow of an enigmatic neighbor named Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a self-made man swirled in rumor and myth, whose fantastical parties are the talk of New York.

Nick inevitably makes the acquaintance of Gatsby, and is quickly drawn into a love-struggle between his mysterious neighbor and his wealthy cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), who lives just across the bay with her brutish, philandering, blue-blooded husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton). With wealth, power, class and desire all brewing into a perfect storm cloud overhead, Nick soon learns that the games of aristocrats leave many shattered lives in their wake.

What Is Good/Bad About The Movie:

Does Baz Luhrmann really understand The Great Gatsby? I can’t say yay or nay but Luhrmann perfectly understands his version of The Great Gatsby, and that's what really matters in this excessive, sentimental, extremely literal and oddly touching spectacle that teeters constantly on the edge of tragedy.

By the time the camera actually alights on DiCaprio's face (about 30 minutes into the movie), there are fireworks exploding behind him and the climax of "Rhapsody in Blue" crashing on the soundtrack-- and, somehow, DiCaprio makes me forget that you are waiting to see him in the fiml and lives up to the introduction. The flash and panache of Luhrmann's Gatsby would be as hollow as those pool parties if the man behind it all didn't matter, but DiCaprio puts in one of his all-time best performances as Gatsby, a man with impeccable taste and manners who's barely certain himself that there's anything behind that shiny veneer.

Parts of the story work beautifully-- Daisy and Gatsby's rain-soaked reunion at Nick's house is exquisitely awkward and romantic, as is the tour of his house that follows. Other parts seem swallowed the bigness of everything around them, as if Luhrmann was anxious to get on to the next party. Amitabh Bachchan is oily and menacing as the gambler Meyer Wolfsheim, but his role is far less important than in the book and clashes with the film's giddy romanticism. And there's always Maguire's reedy voice providing endless, redundant exposition, reciting whole passages of the book that tell us precisely what we're seeing onscreen, giving the sense that Luhrmann isn't quite confident enough to tell the story without leaning back on Fitzgerald's words.

Luhrmann is constantly giving us things we don't need-- a shooting star across the sky to symbolize Gatsby's love for Daisy, a zoom-in on Gatsby's ring as he stands in the window, a cutaway to the wretched residents of the valley of ashes-- but it's a rare thing to watch a director throw at everything at a screen and actually see any of it stick. When the spectacle soars too high, there's DiCaprio's magnetic, heartbreaking performance to level it out. When characters like Jordan or Tom start to seem like beautiful mannequins on which to hang beautiful clothes and plot points, Edgerton and Debicki provide surprising wryness or warmth-- Nick Carraway may come to hate all these people, but Luhrmann wants to embrace them all. And just when you think the green light on Daisy's dock has exhausted itself as a metaphor, there comes the film's famous ending, narrated not all that well by Maguire, but enduringly powerful all the same.

Visually, Great Gatsby is once again a showcase of Luhrmann’s wonderfully outlandish imagination and sharp technical precision. Nostalgics costumed in their best ’20s-era garments, won’t be disappointed with the sequences of lavish party and wild excess that are like dreams come true for the retro crowd. If there were an award for “Best Director – Party or Musical Sequence,” then Lurhmann would win hands down; it won’t be surprising if this film pushes the culture even further towards a 1920s revival (already seen in  the recent resurgence of speakeasy-themed bars, mixology cocktails, ’20s-themed fashion, etc…).

The cast is excellent, led by another great performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, who comes in and owns the role of Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s titular character has always been a difficult nut to crack – whether on the page or onscreen; however, DiCaprio embraces the contradictions and complexities of the man – charming, suave, smart, shady, insecure, naive, volatile – and melds them into a tour de force performance. He’s cool, at times funny, at times pitiful, sometimes frightening – in short, he is likely going to be the definitive take on Gatsby for quite some time.
Carey Mulligan is equally good at breathing life into the ethereal character of Daisy, who is at once beautiful, listless, passionate and pampered. Like DiCaprio, Mulligan captures the full range of the character necessary to challenge perception (is she a trampled flower or an ensnaring weed?) – and above all else, the pair have great chemistry simmering beneath their stoic, mannered facades; a fine romantic core to power the film. In this world  where manners and breeding trump passion, there is inevitably a hollowness to drama – but again, that has as much to do with the subject matter of Fitzgerald’s novel as it does with Luhrmann’s film.
Joel Edgerton shows that not just anyone who can go toe-to-toe with DiCaprio, but Edgerton’s Tom Buchanan battles for every scene he’s in, and walks off with them more often than not. And for a character who can so easily slip into caricature, Edgerton manages to keep Tom as well-rounded and complex as Daisy and Gatsby, giving us a worthy love triangle.

Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Daisy’s friend (and famous female golfer) Jordan Baker. With her lanky, statuesque beauty and wide, haunting eyes, Debiki is almost too dominant in her supporting role (not that I’m complaining, per se). She’ll definitely find more work after this.

Isla Fisher brings her plucky good looks and Wedding Crashers wildness to her bit role as Tom’s mistress, Myrtle, while Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) continues to outshine the material he’s given, playing Myrtle’s cuckolded gear-head husband, George.

Finally, Tobey Maguire does an okay job as the walking plot device that is Nick Carraway. Called out early on by Tom as a known voyeur, Nick’s job is indeed to take in the aristocratic world around him – and Maguire’s wide-eyed stare is perfectly-suited to the task. The former Spider-Man works in a bit of comedy and charm where possible, but is mostly just good at being the unimposing everyman who leads us through the story.

The most divisive aspect of Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby adaptation will certainly be the soundtrack masterminded by Sean “Jay-Z” Carter. With its modern hip-hop and pop ballad tunes (read: Beyonce), some will argue that the anachronistic mix of setting and soundtrack interrupts the immersive effect of Luhrmann’s world-building. While that argument is valid, in my observation the music is not employed frivolously or randomly, but is rather used at key moments with either winking irony or sharp insight into how the world back then (with excess celebrated to the tune of Jazz) is reflected in the world of today (with excess celebrated to the tune of hip-hop).

For those looking for something more sophisticated (but no less visually entertaining ) than the average summer blockbuster, Great Gatsby 3D offers a mix of old Hollywood grandeur and new Hollywood edge for better or worse. 

Overall Grade: B



4 comments:

  1. The 1974 Redford/Farrow version is one of my all-time favorites but I am looking forward to seeing this one, if for nothing more than the visuals.

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  2. The movie has not yet opened here in Sydney (Australia), but it was shot here in Sydney. So the background is our beautiful city!

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