Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Amitabh Bachchan, Elizabeth Debicki. Drama based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Directed by Baz Luhrmann.
FILM SYNOPSIS: The Great Gatsby follows Fitzgerald-like, would-be writer Nick Carraway as he leaves the Midwest and comes to New York City in the spring of 1922, an era of loosening morals, glittering jazz, bootleg kings, and sky-rocketing stocks. Chasing his own American Dream, Nick lands next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby, and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy, and her philandering, blue-blooded husband, Tom Buchanan. It is thus that Nick is drawn into the captivating world of the super rich, their illusions, loves and deceits. Gatsby loves Daisy. He has always loved her, but he was poor and she wasn’t. So five years later, he has built an empire, and all to win back the now married Miss Daisy.
The novel was written in 1925, and exposed the underbelly of the Roaring ‘20s lost generation, especially of those who lived by the creed, “The rich get richer and the poor get children.”
PREVIEW REVIEW: This movie is a good example of why we need to study history, for without examining the past we are doomed to repeat its failures. Filmmakers take note.
When F. Scott Fitzgerald first wrote what would become a thematically rich American classic about the empty pursuit of wealth and status, it was somewhat scandalous, containing subject matter that just wasn’t talked about in polite company. But the spirit of Fitzgerald’s great story of love found, lost and then lost again, is treated with an excess of visual flair by director Baz Luhrmann. This may not be the filmmaker’s fault, as it is difficult to be scandalous in this age. (In San Francisco, for example, every day is a call for a Gatsby party.) Watching Mr. Luhrmann’s take on the wild party life of the Roaring ‘20s is more a salute to a decadent lifestyle than an indictment of it.
The subtext of Fitzgerald’s work goes beyond a lost love or the attaining of riches in order to find a reason for being. With a masterful use of prose, the author skillfully ridiculed the emptiness of riches, while giving us a three-dimensional look at the kind of people it’s best not to become. Like Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote between the lines, painting pictures with words. The mistake filmmakers always seem to make with their adaptation of this novel is to glorify the excesses of the time.
In his attempt to catch the same mystique he brought to his version of Moulin Rouge, director Baz Luhrmann amps up the excess by filming his production in 3D and editing the film with a techno, CGI-glitzy approach, which sadly only gives his movie a kind of “pop-up book” appearance that fails to draw us into fellowship with any character, including Nick, the story’s moral compass.
I suspect that in an effort to appeal to younger generations, Luhrmann has ousted the music of the period in favor of an anachronistic score that includes hip hop (I kid you not). Though the music somewhat works, catching the frenzied, glamorous tone of the era, it’s just another evidence of the filmmaker’s use of style over substance, which is really what this production is all about.
While Leonardo DiCaprio fails to deliver the “old sport” phrase with much panache, if you are a fan of his furrowed forehead brand of acting, you’ll probably be suitably impressed. After all, the actor does clean up well. BTW, that seems to be the one thing that comes across well in this film – people look better when they dress up. Clothing hides many a body fault.
Whatever I would say about Mr. DiCaprio’s costar, Carey Mulligan, would only come across as cruel. So I will adhere to the adage: if you have nothing nice to say about someone…blah, blah, blah.
In defense of those involved in the production, the central problem for audience members is the acceptance of the vapid, nihilistic, rather godless central characters. Even getting past Luhrmann’s more-is-not-enough approach, we’re still left with protagonists who evidently give no thought to things of the spirit.
Once again, the Great American Novel fails to transfer into the Great American Movie.
Trivia: I believe I saw a shot of the Empire State Building during an opening montage. Hmmm. If not mistaken, construction on the then tallest building in the world hadn’t begun until 1930.
DVD Alternatives: Citizen Kane. At the age of 25, Orson Welles starred in, directed and co-wrote what many consider the best film ever made. Along with his cinematographer, editor and other pioneering technicians, Welles brought many innovations to the movie world. With the use of lighting, camera angles and dazzling direction, Welles tells the poverty-to-riches, rise-to-power story of a William Randolph Hearst-like publisher.
Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman star in this 4-star romantic love affair that takes place during the beginning of WWII. Here, honor and faithfulness prevail.