Film, Print, Reviews June 11, 2013

Film Review: The Great Gatsby

by James Garcia

great_gatsbymovieposterYou probably read it in highschool, but you probably never imagined it like director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) has portrayed one of the greatest American novels, The Great Gatsby. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan (Drive), this fast-paced adventure through Fitzgerald’s roaring 20s is a jolt to the system, filled with brilliant color, unbelievably elegant clothing, and more martinis than James Bond could ever hope to pour down his gullet.

The camera doesn’t stop for a moment, always gyrating around millionaire Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio) and his confidante Nick Carraway (Maguire), the less than humble narrator, as the veil of the mysterious life of the great Gatsby slowly tears, revealing his true intentions behind the most extravagant parties ever seen. Which are truly a spectacle akin to Cirque Du Soleil on crack. Luhrmann brings to the table much of what made Moulin Rouge such a visual delight.

It seems as if each shot doesn’t stay focused on characters or scenery for longer than three seconds before it’s flipped around and backwards around the mansions, Valley of Ashes, or the breathtaking cityscape of early 1920s New York City. If you can keep up with the filmography of The Great Gatsby, you’re in for a real treat. Much like the popular period pieces that have been popping up as of late (Mad Men, On the Road, Boardwalk Empire, etc.), the filmmakers have pumped in a heavy dose of sex appeal and the rock-star vibe we crave, perhaps making it almost as shocking as the novel must have been for readers of the time.

But exaggerated partying and flashiness aside, this movie sticks pretty closely to the book’s plot, a very important factor in considering a film adaptation. And it’s famously more entertaining than the 1974 adaptation that starred Robert Redford.

What it comes down to for Gatsby, is what drives most men to do over-the-top and self-destructive things: the attention of a love interest, in this case the stunningly beautiful Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan), wife to “old money” millionaire Tom Buchanan. The table is set, the drinks are poured and a series of social faux pas and stolen romances shatter the lives of everyone involved, all of it begging the question: Is it the size of your wallet, the money in your blood, or the passion in your heart that makes a man important?

The soundtrack of this film is a who’s who of contemporary music artists, making the modern spin on the classic all the more vibrant, with the likes of Jay Z, Beyonce, Andre 3000,, Fergie, Lana Del Rey, Florence + The Machine, The XX, Gotye, Jack White, Nero, and more, each putting their mark on the the Jazz Age story. It was a bold move, and one that I believe worked well, bringing the modern audience into a time of dissolution, over-indulgence, and decadence with music we directly relate to.

DiCaprio gives yet another brilliant performance. When he smiles into the camera offering you a drink, he perfectly matches Fitzgerald’s sentiments: “It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it… It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”

Maguire did a good job of being the unreliable narrator, constantly interjecting his thoughts on the unfolding events, driving the story along. His part may have been a little overplayed by the end, having the story somewhat awkwardly framed with him being in a sanitarium, telling the story to a therapist. All around, the performances were, for the most part, impressive.

I applaud Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby as a fun adaptation, but with yet another literary film adaptation (see: Life of Pi, Game of Thrones, and Perks of Being a Wallflower) and remake (see: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the in-development remake of American Psycho) to add to Hollywood’s repertoire of revisited, revamped, resold stories I am reminded of the final line from the novel.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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