Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Movie Review: The Great Gatsby

 I haven’t seen Les Miserables and, despite the great reviews, I don’t know if I ever will. You see, some 20+ years ago, I was forced to read about Jean Valjean and Cosette and the whole very sad, very miserable crew and I hated every minute of it. I hated it so much that decades later I can’t even bear the thought of a cinematic version. It was the exact opposite with The Great Gatsby. I read it in high school and I loved it. I enjoyed the adaptation with Robert Redford (Gatsby), Mia Farrow (Daisy) and Sam Waterson (Nick). I couldn’t wait to see this one.

For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. Leonardo DiCaprio did a great job of capturing Jay Gatsby’s determination and hopeless hopefulness. Normally, I’m not a huge Tobey McGuire fan but he did a solid job of capturing the role of the trying-to-be-objective narrator, Nick Carraway. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, five years earlier, a penniless Gatsby met Daisy Buchanan and fell head-over-heels with the beautiful young privileged girl. He went off to war and made Daisy (Carey Mulligan) promise that she’d wait.

Daisy, however, broke that promise and married Tom (Joel Edgerton) a boorish, philandering man who, like her, came from old money. If she would have waited, Gatsby would have come back. It was always his plan. In the years he was away, he earned millions, enough wealth, he thought, to earn Daisy’s heart.

With Tom’s constant cheating, Daisy seemed like she might be ready for what Gatsby had to offer but as Nick warned his friend, "You can’t recreate the past."

As I said, I really enjoyed DiCaprio as Gatsby the hopeful dreamer who, you could tell, wasn’t afraid to be ruthless to get what he wanted. Like his character in Catch Me If You Can, DiCaprio (and the character of Gatsby) have mastered the art of reinvention. Edgerton's Tom also proved to be a formidable challenger for Daisy’s heart.

Now, the movie opens and closes in a snowy asylum where Nick pins The Great Gatsby as part of his therapy. What? Hey, kids, if you want to bypass the book and just use the film instead, know that this little artistic license did not happen in the novel. I didn’t understand why Nick, for one, would end up in an asylum and, two, why the book would have to be written there. Couldn’t it just be a memoir based on an important and pivotal time in his life?

Then there is the matter of Daisy. I thought Carey Mulligan was good but I left wondering if someone else could have been better in that role. Mulligan was good but not great. Director/co-writer Luhrmann gave Daisy a lot more depth than she had in the book. As she was written by Fitzgerald, Daisy just wasn't the kind of woman who would ever be capable of the kind of love that Gatsby demands … and never was. Part of the tragedy is that the past Gatsby so desperately wanted to create was never there.

Yet this is a Baz Luhrmann spectacle and he brings on the dazzling visuals. The infamous parties Gatsby is known for as well as the speakeasies and mansions give him a colorful playground to romp and play in. The soundtrack, has more than a nod to executive producer Sean “Jay-Z” Carter. It is a mash-up of rap and current songs with a 20’s feel. Jay-z, Beyonce, and Will-I-Am are featured. There is even a 20’s version of Amy  Winehouse classic Back to Black.

Gatsby is a kinetic visual spectacle with a few really strong performances. We saw it in 2-D, if I could have done it again, I’d do the 3-D version.

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