Friday, May 10, 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013)

More like the "So-So" Gatsby...

Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby isn't a terrible movie, but I found myself going through various stages of irritation and interest throughout it.  Fifteen minutes in, I was so nauseated by the visuals and music that I considered walking out.  Gatsby hadn't even shown up on screen yet.  Once he did though, I found myself taken in by his charm and story.  However, as it continued on, I started to care less and less about the characters and what was going on with them.

Let's start with those visuals.  I think part of my experience was compounded by the fact that I saw this in RPX 3D.  I heard this was actually shot in 3D, and if it was, it's one of the worst examples of unnecessary 3D I've seen.  It didn't add anything to the film, and just made the visuals that much more distracting.  Several scenes were simultaneously in and out of focus and weird digital camera tricks were used that won't help anyone that already has motion issues watching movies in 3D.  In some ways the look of the 3D reminded me of the effect that The Hobbit has with it's 48 FPS motion.  Much of the film felt and looked fake to me, whether it was wide shots of houses or cities, or scenes of cars racing around at impossibly fast speeds.  Some shots looked so clearly computer generated, that I thought I was watching a video game cut-scene version of The Great Gatsby.  I don't think I've ever said this about a film before, but I'd call it over-directed.  The whole film was just too busy and there were times I wish Luhrmann would just stop playing around with the look of the film, moving the camera around, and just concentrate on telling the story.  This did calm down a bit as the movie went on though, especially during some of the more dialog-heavy scenes.

The music I found extremely distracting as well.  In what felt like a lame effort to try to give this more of a modern feel, there are lots of hip-hop and dance songs throughout.  This is worsened by the fact that many times this is mixed with the actual background music heard, so you've got this cacophony of musical styles and songs with different tempos being played over one another.  During the credits I saw that Jay Z co-produced the score, and then it made sense.  Who else would shoehorn a remixed version of Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" in The Great Gatsby?  I'm not kidding, that song is in the film.

So, what's the story about?  Nick (Tobey Maguire) is a bond salesman in 1920's New York.  He lives in a small, but comfortable house on the outskirts of town.  This house is dwarfed by a huge mansion directly next door inhabited by the mysterious and elusive Gatsby.  Little is know about Gatsby; who he is, where he got his money, what he does, but the one thing everyone does know about him is that he throws great parties.  People come from all over (uninvited, I might add) to hang out at Gatsby's mansion even though none of these people actually know him.  Nick gets a formal invite, a rarity, to one of these parties and meets Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).  The two become friends, and eventually Gatsby asks Nick for a favor.  He wants to reconnect with an old love of his, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who happens to be Nick's cousin.  They have not seen each other in five years, and in that time Daisy has married rich sportsman Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

My only real familiarity with F. Scott Fitzgerald is when Loki (Tom Hiddleston) played him in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, so yeah, I haven't read the book and didn't have any ideas about the story going in.  After hearing what a classic novel this was, I thought I was going to be in for a treat as far as depth of story and characters, but that's where I thought this adaptation really let me down.  All of the characters felt very one-dimensional to me, with the exception of Gatsby, but like with Daisy, there's just nothing to her character that makes you see why these men are in love with her (other than the fact that Carey Mulligan is very pretty).  She's just there.  In other cases, they go out of their way to make sure you don't have any reason to like them.  For example, Tom Buchanan is not only is cheating on his wife, but he's jealous of Gatsby, and he's a racist.  I've often railed against movies that romanticize extramarital affairs, and this is no exception.  Daisy and Gatsby begin their affair, and they don't appear to have any conscience about it.  It's not until Gatsby finally pushes her to leave her husband, and then you see a little bit of internal conflict.  I felt like I was watching a very slick looking soap opera.  I'm guessing that Luhrmann and co-writer Craig Pearce's script didn't capture the depth or these characters or story.  Otherwise, I'm not sure what makes this a classic.  Most of the movie hints that there's more to Gatsby than he's letting on, but when it's revealed I couldn't help thinking, "that's it?"

I'll give credit to the performances though, especially with Leonardo DiCaprio.  He really was charismatic as Gatsby, and turned in another fine performance.  He was easily the best thing about the film for me, and was the only character that went through any kind of emotional range.  I also liked Joel Edgerton's performance, despite not really liking his character.  Another standout for me was Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan.  I believe this was her first role, and I thought she looked like someone plucked right out of the 20's.  While I think Tobey Maguire's wide-eyed enthusiasm worked for his performance, I thought there were problems with his narration, especially as the movie began.  It sounded like he was speaking with a labored voice, as if to convey he's much older, but then when you finally see him, he's the normally aged Mcguire, so what's with the voice?  It didn't sound like that throughout the film, so maybe he was sick that day?  The cast is rounded out by Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke, who were fine, but not given a ton to do.

Gatsby might have been great, but The Great Gatsby isn't.  It has it's moments, but the visuals were too flashy and distracting for their own good and the soundtrack was annoying.  Leonardo DiCaprio was great as Gatsby, but found myself really not caring about anyone else in the film or what was happening.  It's another case of style over substance.  I suppose it's going to come down to whether or not you like the visual style of the film, but it didn't work for me.  DO NOT see this in 3D!  I'm calling this one a rental.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Hey Erik,

    I couldn't agree more with your overall summary. What possessed Luhrmann to think he could tackle something like a Fitzgerald adaptation is beyond my comprehension.

    I totally forgot about Maguire's old-man voice at the beginning. Good call.

    I do just want to point out that the characters in the book are shallow and it's more a reflection of the decay of morals in the upper-class New York society in the 1920s. At times, I thought perhaps the film's production and overall flashiness was a high-brow reference of how shallow the story really is, but then I remembered Luhrmann's probably not that smart.

    I do hope this film doesn't tarnish "Gatsby" for you and you read it sometime and find out how amazing it is.

    Good review,

    1. Thanks again for the comments, Cristina. Also, thanks for clarifying that the characters in the books were shallow and that was kind of the point in the book. It does make it more likely that I'll go back and give it a read at some point. :) I'm actually kind of surprised that we never read that in school, when I know so many people that were required to read it.