The Great Gatsby Directed by: Baz Luhrmann Cast: Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton Running Time: 2 hrs 23 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: May 10, 2013
PLOT: A bondsman (Maguire) becomes witness to a love triangle involving his cousin (Mulligan), her husband (Edgerton), and the wealthy rich man of mystery (DiCaprio) who lives in a mansion next door. Based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans hoping this movie will honor the spirit of the novel should probably not bother; this film adaptation has its own spirit, one highly directed towards viewers who simply want opulence.
EXPECTATIONS: Having recently read the novel for the first time, I was curious as to how the Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann would treat the material, especially with the promise of a unique soundtrack. And most importantly, I wondered how this adaptation would be able to choose from such rich material in terms of dialogue and imagery.
Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway: In a film of hit-and-miss casting choices, Maguire is a solid fit for audience surrogate Nick Carraway, bringing the good nature we expect from him into this crucial character. For a man that turns 30 in the middle of the story, Maguire has the right boyish attitude for this story, allowing us to care to join him as events unfold around him. Score: 6
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby: His off-screen bachelor image may make DiCaprio sound like an efficient idea for Gatsby, but his massive presence says otherwise. Right from a sinfully goofy introduction, DiCaprio creates little intrigue for what is meant to be a continually curious character. Instead, he is loud (certainly when he lets out a trademark DiCaprio roar), and too big to be cloaked in the mystery that is meant to steer this story's title character development. Score: 5
Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan: The sweet-faced Mulligan has played delicate flowers before, like in Drive, in which she was also in a love triangle. She is thus another wise casting choice as Daisy, a woman who only has power in the admiration she can get from men. Try as Mulligan might, she doesn't garner any heavy emotions with this character, instead making her a passed around object of affection. Score: 5
Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan: Though distracting with a silly voice, Edgerton provides a sense of hulkiness to this egotistical character, who lives by his own rules. In moments in which his masculinity is threatened through the truths in his marriage, Edgerton also applies the proper amount of emotion. Score: 5
TALKING: Working from one hell of a source, Great Gatsby takes a good chunk of its dialogue verbatim from the novel, and honors the beauty of certain statements by delivering them with breath and meditation. As spoken by these actors, Fitzgerald's dialogue still maintains its artistry. Saddled with the highly challenging role of slimming the novel's thoroughly incredible narration, co-writer Luhrmann does a fine job of providing a "greatest hits" of Fitzgerald's prose. Unfortunately, he damns himself to dumbness with a trite narrative framing device. In this regard, among others, it is clear to see where Fitzgerald ends, and Luhrmann begins. Score: 6
SIGHTS: Despite popping its saturated colors like it was a Speed Racer prequel, Great Gatsby fails to create an exciting aesthetic. Cameras fly around and zoom through locations, and the only wondrous element is the production design. Even the film's 3D, a gimmick to compliment the movie's visual gimmicks, only makes for a bizarre viewing experience, with characters shot in awkward close ups (the fake movie in Cloud Atlas comes to mind as a comparison). On top of this, the film's inclination towards the overly obvious is represented with its moments of unfortunate slow motion, which are shown in pivotal sequences, such as Gatsby's introduction, or a tragedy in the third act. This interpretation of Great Gatsby lacks subtlety, especially visually, and the whole experience doesn't benefit from that. Score: 6
SOUNDS: Following his inclination towards anachronistic soundtrack choices, Luhrmann succeeds at dating Great Gatsby by taking a piece of art from one specific period and catering much of its tune usage to a younger generation. The usage of songs like "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" by Jay-Z or "Young and Beautiful" by Lana Del Rey doesn't provide pop pep to the moments in which they are used as aesthetic fill-ins, but instead inspire impulsive shoulder shrugs, if not pings of embarrassment. Aside from maybe assisting in getting this movie made (Jay-Z is an executive producer), for what point does this music choice have with a period that is otherwise being honored with huge detail and dedication? Score: 5
BEST SCENE: Perhaps the best scene in the movie is when Jay and Tom are battling over whom Daisy loves; this is one moment in which the book is fitfully honored, and the film allows the story to be what it really is, a character study of big personas.
ENDING: Taking its terrible framing device full circle, the sweet moments of the book's final words are bungled by a cheesy title-referencing ending. It is a trite shameful.
QUESTIONS: How did Carraway end up in a sanitarium anyway? Whose idea was it to use that cheap device? My girlfriend keeps saying Bradley Cooper would be an excellent Tom Buchanan. Does anyone else agree with that?
REWATCHABILITY: There is nothing about this movie that makes me really want to see it again, but in a couple years, I'd like to take another look.
The actual story of Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" isn't all that great. That is a fact of literature; what elevates the novel to its prestige is its vision, its imagination with words. Like a great film, the novel "Great Gatsby" is elevated from rich white people melodrama because of how Fitzgerald creates such imagery with his words, and in a sense, how he directs the images to the reader with his rich melody. Right from its creation, this is a novel with a story that thoroughly depends on its director's vision.
Like the 2009 adaptation of Watchmen, this version of Great Gatsby doesn't change the original story all that much, and it honors dialogue directly in moments in which the book seems like it was pasted into the script. For such a narrative, co-writer Luhrmann does well in trimming some of the fat (we don't miss the extended relationship between Nick and lady friend Jordan), and of keeping this tale lean.
In the midst of slapping on its own sprawls of artistic dominance, Great Gatsby begins to lack subtlety. It shows itself to be a film made by a director who sees a costume party first and foremost, and a movie of rich character drama second or even third. Many elements of Fitzgerald's Gatsby are now made into parades, their presence boisterous, or even worse, cool. Carraway's first time getting drunk turns into a Project X rager, and then of course there's the soundtrack. This adaptation even uses the egregious "Write about it!" narrative framing device, which creates for an overly obvious clue as to why we're getting so much narration, etc.
Fitzgerald's writing may have included a lot of description about the lavish environments in his novel, but such details don't get in the way of his story that serves to be more than a tale of wealth. These choices make an example out of Luhrmann's take on storytelling, as Great Gatsby can't get by on its production budget alone.
In this story of fake success, in which men see the illusion of what they really own, Great Gatsby is turned into party porn, with only grandiosity on its mind. Despite showing that eventually the parties did stop, this overindulgent adaptation finds no humbleness itself.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10