Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Romance
Run Time: 2 hours, 23 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Joel Edgerton
Based on the book by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Co-Written & Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, Strictly
Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Australia)
Look here, old sport: The latest film version of The Great Gatsby (in theaters now) falls short of greatness. But that's not to say that it isn't good, it's just weighed down by an eccentric director who just can't help himself.
The movie, of course, is an adaptation of what is known as the "Great American Novel" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This isn't the first film version of Gatsby - that would be a now lost silent version (the book was published in 1925 and the silent film was released in 1926...sadly only a trailer for the film is known to exist). There have been others over the years but this one pulls Gatsby into modern theaters for a modern audience, complete with - unnecessary - 3D to boot.
Taking place in the Roaring Twenties in the fictional West Egg of Long Island, it is a story told from the point of view of Nick Caraway (Tobey Maguire) who rents a small house that just so happens to be located directly next to a gigantic mansion where a mysterious man known as "Gatsby" resides. He throws lavish parties every weekend and lives a fabulous life it would seem. This wouldn't be that odd, but Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young man of thirty and rumors swirl as to how he came into money at such a young age and what he is doing in West Egg.
Nick's cousin Daisy (the wonderful Carey Mulligan) is quite wealthy herself, married to the stoic Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Tom has a dame on the side and when Daisy hears the name Gatsby, it triggers something within her...something from her past.
Having just read the book again, this new film is a very precise and accurate - a faithful adaptation of a classic tale. Much, if not all, of the dialogue is kept intact verbatim from the book and it whisks along to contain nearly every portion of the novel. At over 2 hours and 15 minutes, the film The Great Gatsby might take you longer to get through than the 180-page book.
Directed by the crafty, showy Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rouge!), he makes the movie a recognizable addition to his filmography. This at times adds interest but it mostly distracts us, especially when he includes inexplicable "Baz-isms," like a nearby car bumping hip-hop tunes with any sense of era or time thrown into the wind. These stylistic touches are peppered over the entire film, but it operates best when Baz is out of the way and Fitzgerald's material is allowed to breathe.
That being said, this film version also moves along at an obnoxiously rushed pace, especially the first half of the film. There was little flow to how things progressed, though I recognized each and every moment from the book. Without Fitzgerald's elegant words to tie them together, they just seem to be a mashing of thoughts and ideas.
The result is, for those who didn't read the book - or slept through that part of high school - the fast pace doesn't allow for proper character development or attachment to the audience. This makes the events in the last half of the movie fall a bit flatter than they should.
The film still explores many of the themes of the book - about class, youth, the consequences of keeping secrets and the inability to recreate the past - and the acting is top-notch (especially Edgerton, who is phenomenal here). But The Great Gatsby is hiding a secret, concealed and lost by a wide-eyed director more interested in visual style than emotional depth. At least he's working with grand material.
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