This 4th version of The Great Gatsby is going to be compared to Moulin Rouge for using music that doesn’t fit the time (Jay-Z is one of the producers, and you hear his rapping and hip-hop in some of the scenes).
Nobody can say Baz Luhrmann doesn’t know how to film a party. It’s a shame that when we’re away from the parties, the actors have clunky dialogue and sections of the film bore you. Even the parts of the dialogue that come across as corny and were taken directly from the book, just don’t work on film. Neither does the symbolism that worked on the page (the huge eyes of the optometrist on the billboard, the green light on Daisy’s dock, etc.)
As a big music fan, I was happy to report that mixing the hip-hop with the jazzy stuff wasn’t so bad and there wasn’t a lot of it. The thumping beat and bass gave the party a frantic pulse — as did the camera that could swing around and catch all the action.
Tobey Maguire is Nick Carraway, the neighbor to Gatsby, cousin to Daisy, and observer. His impressionable doofus character was annoying to watch. He narrates that story the way so many films have been lately — he’s writing about this larger than life character (from a sanitarium).
Carey Mulligan, an actress I’ve loved in everything (Shame, An Education, Drive, Never Let Me Go) is miscast as Daisy Buchanan, although she’s certainly better in the role than Mia Farrow was in the 1974 version.
Leonardo DiCaprio, who was so impressive in Django Unchained and Shutter Island, doesn’t really work for me. He has a sly smile and shows some charm, but I would’ve liked some dialogue that showed why Carraway was so fascinated by him. Just having Carraway overhear a few partiers speculate on what he does or who he may have killed, wasn’t enough. I want his mysterious nature to be more than just a facial expression and being told he has a “phone call” in the other room. Since there are such attractive (and drunk) women at his parties (who knew flappers ever twerked) — perhaps a scene where he turns down a gorgeous woman, because his heart still belong to Daisy. When he finally does express his love for Daisy…I want to be rooting for him, not thinking he’s an unstable stalker.
The one character that was perfect was Joel Edgerton (The Warrior) as Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan. He’s a mustachioed brute that loves flaunting his wealth…and his football and polo trophies.
For those that aren’t familiar with the story — Gatsby throws these elaborate parties not to participate in all the fun his guests seem to be having — but to win the love of Daisy. He was a poor soldier at one time, and now he’s a self-made man with lots of cash. Nobody is really sure how he acquired such wealth. Carraway sets up a meeting between him and Daisy over tea, and we’re all rooting for that romance to blossom. We see that Tom is a supercilious clod and Daisy deserves better.
There’s a scene in which Gatsby starts throwing his shirts down to a giggling Daisy, in an effort to impress her. It’s one of my many pet peeves about romance on film. They have the man engage in behavior that makes me wonder why the woman would fall so hard for them. My best example of this is Ryan Gosling in The Notebook. He would take his date out at night and lay in the middle of the street, below stop lights. And yeah, I understand…if you look like DiCaprio or Gosling, you can probably just take women out to lay down in the street, or show them the fancy silk shirts you own, and they’ll be laying down somewhere else very soon. I prefer screenwriters to give me a little more.
I do want to point out one complaint I’ve seen a few critics make regarding DiCaprio that I didn’t think was fair. They mention his accent not being consistant. I heard a similar complaint with Ben Kingsley’s character (the Mandarin) in Iron Man 3. Yet what people might be forgetting is — both of these actors are playing characters that are doing a certain amount of “acting” to fool people. To have them not nail an accent might be a subtle part of showing something the character is trying to pull off, and not being completely successful at.
Now, listening to DiCaprio say “old sport” for literally, the 100th time, got on my nerves. I’m not sure if it’s because Robert Redford (in the 1974 version), can do it so effortlessly, or if it’s because DiCaprio still looks like a teenage boy most of the time.
Perhaps it’s impossible to turn a classic novel into a great movie. I liked the film version of Catch 22, but it was considered a bomb; although they did it with One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, so…it all just goes back to the screenplay and director. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed The Godfather and made it a classic that surpassed the novel. It’s strange to think that the guy who did that, as well as writing Patton, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, and even created a great ’20s vibe with Cotton Club — did a boring screenplay for Gatsby in the early 70s.
This version doesn’t work as a love story or interesting period piece. It’s strange to think that for a movie making a commentary on unnecessary excess — the film had a budget of $150 million and the 3D brings nothing to the party.
When the screening ended at the packed Reading Cinemas Gaslamp theatre, a man next to me asked “Why isn’t anybody applauding?”
Well, I can only applaud a handful of scenes. All the parties and how they were shot, Carraway getting drunk for the first time and glancing at the lives of others in an apartment building that has the windows expand and show us the lives of others. Oh, and the fireworks to Rhapsody in Blue were nice (even if we saw that previously in Woody Allen’s Manhattan). Fireworks always seem to work on the big screen (yet never in photographs).
I give credit to Catherine Martin for incredible costumes and production.
Perhaps I’d give this movie 2 1/2 stars if it was original, but the fact that it’s based on a classic novel and ultimately fails because it doesn’t convey any of the themes in the book – it only gets 1 1/2 stars out of 5.