Somehow I have managed to avoid both reading the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel and seeing any of the numerous film and television portrayals. So, for better or for worse, I went into this one more or less without any preconceived notions. What did I think of this raucous telling of the mysterious man known as Gatsby? Despite the title, I didn’t find it all that great.
Most people probably know the story of The Great Gatsby. Even I had a vague idea of what it was about based on the trailers and what I knew from general pop culture knowledge. Told from the point of view of a young New Yorker, Nick (Tobey Maguire), during the roaring 20’s, this is the story of how he met, and became became entangled in the life of, the wealthy and mysterious Mr. Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). From the moment he comes into contact with his unusual neighbor at an extravagant party, Nick’s life will never be the same as he becomes an integral part in a mystery of money, love, and secrets. Lots of secrets. The cast is rounded out by Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, and Jason Clarke.
Directed with the distinct style of Baz Luhrmann, this version of The Great Gatsby is in the same vein as his previous films Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, fusing modern music and sensibilities with period pieces. For the record, I quite enjoyed Moulin Rouge! and thought the style worked. Here, not so much. From the very beginning things move at a frantic, disjointed pace. Even slow scenes feel rushed by quick cuts and music that feels off key the majority of the time.
The helter skelter style works during the party scenes, contributing to the barrage of the senses, but nowhere else. Thankfully it seems to slow to a more acceptable speed as the plot becomes more established, only to take on an uneven and boring pace. The musical choices are uninspired the majority of the time, thrown on top of the moving picture haphazardly and seemingly without any attempt to meld the music with the movie. What results is exceedingly disjointed the audience is subjected to Beyoncé and Jay-Z while the characters on screen seem to be dancing to a beat that only they can hear. Instead of feeling like a fresh new take on a classic, what we get feels lazy with the height of inspiration being a five second scene where a 1920’s car full of black people is bouncing the toe beats of modern rap. Oh, haha, I see what you did there.
Once you get past the music and disjointed film style, there are some nice things. The 3D really works in some scenes, though in others it merely succeeds to in making the film muddy. Visually the movie is truly stunning in many instances, though in an empty, uninspired sort of way. The cast does a fair enough job, but I couldn’t find myself caring about any of them. Nobody seems to own their characters and I felt like any capable actor could have replaced any one of them. DiCaprio is the one exception. Gatsby feels like a role he could have easily phoned in, but thankfully he doesn’t. He’s really the lone highlight here, making what could have been a difficult role seem second nature. Though I did hear him say “old sport,” one time too many.
Perhaps if I had been a fan of The Great Gatsby going in, I would have enjoyed it more, but then again I may have felt even worse about it. I can’t say that the story did anything for me. It’s unlikely and drawn out – though surprisingly the 2.5 hour run-time is the least of this film’s crimes. It’s a bit pretentious as it grasps at a more meaningful purpose than the chaotic Luhrmann allows it to reach. It’s a complex puzzle with a lot of pieces. Pity none of them fit.
Mrs. Hamster Says:
“The movie itself was boring overall, but Leo deserves a best actor nomination for this one.”
My Rating: Two out of Five Hats
The Great Gatsby roars into 3,350 theaters, May 10 in 2D and 3D