Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Great Gatsby review

Many times over the course of movie history have directors attempted to adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Many times they have failed. The 1926 version is lost, the 1949 version is rarely seen and the 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow is critically reviled. Enter Baz Luhrmann, the glamorous director of Romeo+Juliet and Moulin Rouge! Can he make Gatsby a tragic love story with relevance in the 21st century. While Luhrmann's version of The Great Gatsby does have its moments, it ends up being a rather boring romance drama with little or no tension, passion or drama. Add that to an ADHD, breakneck pace that skips over important details to get to the next glitzy scene and you've got a film that captures the era of the film, but not the story that it's trying to tell.

The Great Gatsby tells the story of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a man who comes to Long Island to be a stockbroker. Carraway is instantly thrust into the world of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious millionaire who throws ridiculous, drunken parties in his backyard. Soon, Carraway uncovers a secret world that involves adultery, murder, gambling, bootlegging and illegal activity that is all centered around his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan). The cast also includes Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan and Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke as Myrtle and George Wilson.

The first part of The Great Gatsby is very well done. It's very entertaining with glitter-filled parties, good acting by Maguire and Mulligan, and is a good start to the movie. However, if you look back at the very entertaining first half hour of the film, you'll see that it sets the film up for disaster. The whole film moves quickly, shuffling from one scene to the next without a second to talk it all in. The first half hour sets that up and while it's a blessing during that section of the film, it's a curse when the secrets are finally uncovered in the second half of the film.

The worst part about Luhrmann's style is how overwhelming it is and how it often overwhelms everything else in the film. When a romance is filled with lavish sets and extreme costumes, it often overshadows the intricacies of the acting and the plot. That's the exact problem in The Great Gatsby. Luhrmann's style is so distinct that it distracts from the rest of the film which is not a good thing. There are good performances in Gatsby, I know there are. Joel Edgeton is good, Tobey Maguire is good and for the first half of the film, Gatsby is like a mythical persona, and DiCaprio is good in the role. However, none of them stand out. The lackluster script doesn't help either.

Old sport. That line is used in the film numerous times. Now, I've never read the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, so I have no idea if the usage is accurate. But, my gosh, is it annoying. There's barely a line that Gatsby utters that is not accompanied by old sport. DiCaprio does his best, but at times the script is just too terrible to save it.

But beyond all the script issues, and Luhrmann's overwhelming style, lies a greater problem. A problem that I have no idea if Luhrmann or the filmmakers could have fixed. It's boring. From the first, ridiculous scene with Gatsby and Daisy to the over-dramatized climax, The Great Gatsby is a boring movie. It's well acted and has some nice touches added to it, making it accessible to younger audiences (mostly teen girls). But even with all the glitzy ridiculousness, Gatsby is boring. The first half is fine but the second half is a soap opera of tedium. I was trying to like this movie that I had been so anticipating. But I couldn't. I hate to use boredom as an excuse for not liking a movie, but in this case, I had to.

Luhrmann is going to make a great movie someday. He's got a great visual eye and his mixture of pop music and old themes is fantastic and a lot of fun to watch. He is going to make a masterpiece and I think that the success of this film is going to open doors for more Luhrmann. I really wanted to enjoy Gatsby but the romance angle was thinly overdone and too much of the film. All I can look at Gatsby as is a disappointment. With the actors of this caliber and the visuals, I expected more. But it would take a great screenwriter to adapt Gatsby into a compelling, dramatic film.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                             (5.5/10)

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