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The Great Gatsby (2013)

May 22, 2013

7/10 Old Sports

Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are.

The Great Gatsby is about a non-judgmental young man who moves to Long Island in the roaring ’20s. He sells bonds during the day and returns to his modest shanty at night, right next to door to one of the wealthiest men in West Egg. Soon after arriving, he reconnects with his cousin across the bay, a woman who’s now married to a wealthy, bullheaded philanderer. Not long after, he receives a invitation to one of the notoriously lavish parties that his neighbor is so fond of throwing. Next thing he knows, he’s chumming it up with the host and going on bonafide bro dates with him to speakeasies in Manhattan. Turns out, this Gatsby fella’ has a history with the young man’s cousin, so in the spirit of being a good neighbor and all, the young man gets these two kids back together as they try to rekindle a love once lost.

I know it, you know it, and we all had to read it in high school because it’s the great American novel. Some may take issue with that sentiment, but with each new time that I’ve read it, the love has continued to grow. So with that being said and for a good two years now, I had been dreading this movie’s existence.

Two years ago was when I first heard that Hollywood was bringing Gatsby to the big screen again. Though initially intrigued for all of one second, my interest changed to sadness when Baz Luhrmann entered the frame. Now, The Great Gatsby is a novel that I adore for its subtlety, and last time I checked, Moulin Rouge! ain’t what you’d call a think piece. Of all the people that they could have gotten to adapt this, they get an Australian with a glitter fetish to lead the way. The logic eluded me, and by the time I heard it was being filmed in 3D, all foreseeable hope was lost.

Yep, wasn’t getting my hopes up for this one, no use beating on against the current. But then it went and caught one hell of a lucky break.

In addition to revisiting the source material, I figured I’d go the extra mile by finally taking a look at the 1974 version of Gatsby (“the Robert Redford version” as folks tend to call it). What I found was a sentence-for-sentence adaptation that was so mind-numbingly boring I had to stop watching it halfway through, and I never do that with a movie. It was one of the most drawn-out, lifeless movies I’d ever seen, one that even The Sundance Kid himself couldn’t salvage. So with that sour taste still fresh in my mouth, the prospect of Baz Luhrmann suddenly sounded quite sweet. Heck, if Meyer Wolfsheim showed up in a sequined unitard belting “Like a Virgin” halfway through, it still couldn’t be worse than that garbage I couldn’t finish.

Nevertheless, the skepticism lingered.

When it starts off with Nick Carraway holed up in a loony bin battling a long list of afflictions that start with “morbid alcoholism” of all things, the skepticism didn’t wane. Then we go back in time, back to when Nick was still a wide-eyed broker during the height of prohibition. The scene is one of opulence, of a culture driven by alcohol and excess. It’s an in-your-face imagining of life in The Big Apple and one that plays a much greater role than the one created by Fitzgerald. But unlike the Redford version, it’s alive. It’s fun.

As you’ve likely gathered from the trailer, this vision of extravagance is a theme that carries throughout. No expense is spared from one scene to the next, it moves at an oddly breathless pace at times and it’s understandably an approach that’s been dividing people across the board. After all, The Great Gatsby was never great because of the characters’ surroundings, it was great because of the characters themselves. This is not how Fitzgerald would have imagined it and some of that subtlety would have helped.

Then again, we already got the subtle version in ’74, and though I can’t speak for everyone on the matter, it was pretty effing horrendous. And is it really all that surprising either?

I’m of the mindset that some stories just don’t warrant adaptations, that we should just enjoy them in the medium they were intended to be enjoyed in and leave it at that. There are exceptions to every rule, but for the most part, I believe there’s good reason why certain stories are told as novels rather than movies and vice-versa. The Great Gatsby works as a novel because Fitzgerald worked as a writer, and with that in mind, there was only so much that the Redford version could achieve.

I can appreciate the temptation that comes with approaching something of this stature and adapting it through a cut-and-paste process. After all, it’s perfect the way it is, so why fix what isn’t broken? But since there’s just no one-upping the source material in a situation like this, going with what’s familiar and hoping for the best is ultimately a naive temptation.

And that’s why Luhrmann works. Even with an unnecessarily lengthy run time of 142 minutes, he succeeds because he makes a Baz Luhrmann movie instead of a bland re-telling that anyone could have made. There are times when it becomes too much of a Baz Luhrmann movie and things get a bit too dramatic or flashy for their own good, but he still stays true to the heart of the story without smothering it along the way. It’s easy on the eyes, it isn’t nearly as abrasive as Moulin Rouge! was and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he has a swell cast to work with.

The best thing I can say about Leo is that he’s a fitting Gatsby, which is the most I was really hoping for anyway. He’s at his best when Gatsby reveals his true self as this inviting, level-headed individual that Nick and Daisy would naturally gravitate towards. In my humble opinion, that’s when Leo’s always at his best, when he finally relaxes and acts with pretense. Not that his performance suffers when Gatsby’s putting on airs, I suppose it’s just another instance of wishing Leo would take more roles that would let him lighten up. Dude just loves playing the headcase.

Tobey Maguire, on the other hand, is a fantastic Nick Carraway. Maybe that’s because Nick’s such a level-headed character from beginning to end, but Tobey does a fine job of embodying the qualities that make him such an engaging narrator. As much I’d love to see an adaptation that’s completely devoid of Nick’s narration (if only as an exercise in showing, not telling), I really liked the way it turned out here. It doesn’t come off like someone’s reading from the text (looking at you, Sam Waterston), it sounds like it’s coming from the mouth of Nick Carraway. And while I’m still not sure how I feel about Nick suddenly becoming Gatsby’s best friend during the last 10 minutes or so, it’s hard to fault Luhrmann on that one. All depends on how you read that last chapter, really.

Always nice to see Isla Fisher get some work and Joel Edgerton has it down pat as Tom Buchanan, the rotten sonofabitch that he is. Carey Mulligan is also good as Daisy, which is a complement and then some with Mia Farrow’s unfortunate performance as my only base for comparison.

Two years ago, I never would have imagine writing a review like this. But that’s one of the great things about Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, that for everything we’ve always loved about it, there’s no right way to read it. I don’t expect Luhrmann’s Gatsby to garner the same kind of acclaim over time, and since I doubt this is the last time I’ll see it adapted to film, I can’t imagine it’ll be regarded as the be-all-end-all interpretation. Man, I don’t even expect to be in the majority with this one and nor could I argue with those who find it a travesty. But considering that the novel is a work without equal, it was refreshing to see Luhrmann make it his own. And for a movie that I seemingly had every reason to loathe, you can color me impressed by the end result.

38 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2013 2:43 am

    Great review! Ooooh I am excited to see this. Very awesome that you enjoyed it, seeing as it was not high up on your list. I read the book in preparation (never had the fortune of studying it in school though) and I really want to see how the story adapts to screen. According to the trailers it looks wonderful!

    • May 22, 2013 4:28 pm

      Thanks! Glad I enjoyed it as well, certainly wasn’t expecting to. And what kind of high school did you go to! I think a stern letter to the principal is in order! And while I can’t speak for everyone on the matter, it was quite the inspired adaptation alright. Sure does look good, too. Would love to hear your thoughts once you give it a go!

      • May 23, 2013 1:32 am

        A South African one! We were hammered Animal Farm and such stories, which were also cool, but still. This is stunning. We don’t have the “American Dream” here though, maybe that is why it was not that much of a deal 😛 I think we should petition heavily, you are right. I am on it! Thanks, I have plans to see it on Saturday, I am very excited!

      • May 24, 2013 8:56 am

        Animal Farm’s a classic, but it’s certainly no Gatsby. I think you’re right, a petition is in order!

        Hope you like the movie and would love to hear your thoughts!

  2. May 22, 2013 3:25 am

    Reblogged this on The Impossible Girl & Her Blue Box.

  3. Larry Kreger permalink
    May 22, 2013 4:53 am

    Enter the Fountain Stomper Party Girls etc. But 3-D and Jay Z!!?This review sounds pretty much what I expected from the new Gatsby. It’ s just sad DiCaprio never really gets to make a movie that really is all that good ( people like Isla Fisher and Joel Edgerton shine away in epics like this because Fitzgerald was not all that interested in their characters so they get to fill them out).As to the 1974 version, it was just totally miscast, especially Mia Farrow who in real life was an even bigger airhead than Daisy in the novel…and Robert Redford was painfully sacrificing himself trying to produce “Art.”
    You are probably right, if we survive as a species that long someone will probably try to do another adaptation of Gatsby in the future.
    I still think the new Gatsby sounds like the temptation to eat too much wedding cake, though.

    • May 22, 2013 4:33 pm

      Hahaha. Yeah, it’s a Baz Luhrmann picture alright. As for Leo, he’s definitely had his moments in some wonderful movies (Catch Me if You Can, Django and Gilbert Grape come to mind), but I get what you’re saying. He’ll get his proper chance one of these days.

      The thing that kills me about Farrow is that the only other thing I really associate her with is Rosemary’s Baby and she’s great in that! But you’re right, man, talk about a miscast movie.

      And unless there’s a complete uprising against this remake/reboot kick that Hollywood’s on these days, it’s only a matter of time before they give one of the greatest stories every written another go.

      Won’t argue that wedding cake statement either. Tough one to recommend if only for that reason.

      • Larry Kreger permalink
        May 22, 2013 6:10 pm

        Oh yes, forgot to say how much I enjoyed your review.One last note: I am probably being too hard on Mia Farrow– anyway, Polanski always did great with creepy stuff ( did you ever see “Repulsion”? Incredibly well done, I have never seen a better movie about a young woman with a really boring but OK life somehow suddenly just starting to crack up , –part where she is getting hallucinations must have been copied by other filmmakers later (by the way, Polanski did the creepy bit so well with Rosemary’s Baby that a lot of people were convinced that when Sharon Tate got murdered it was because they had all been involved in some kind of occult stuff).

      • May 24, 2013 8:51 am

        Haha. Thanks, man! I’m willing to chalk Gatsby up as a mulligan for Mia Farrow, and while I have yet to see Repulsion, I know she’s better than what she did with Daisy. Really gotta check out Repulsion and that’s wild about the Sharon Tate murder theory. Then again, it is Charlie Manson we’re talking about.

      • Larry Kreger permalink
        May 22, 2013 6:20 pm

        Oh I have to add this about Repulsion–(spoiler alert I should note)scene where her worried nice boyfriend comes to see what is wrong and she kills him with a couple of strokes of a razor blade ( while embracing him) is one of THE slickest/awful killings I have ever seen in a movie

      • May 24, 2013 8:53 am

        Haha. Alright alright, I’ll check it out. Thanks for the heads up though, glad I know what to expect.

  4. Larry Kreger permalink
    May 22, 2013 5:22 am

    Oh hell, I’ve read enough about Baz Luhrmann’s version so now I have to see it–but I still refuse to go the 3-D route on this one.

    • May 22, 2013 4:34 pm

      Hahaha. Good on ya’. I didn’t see it in 3D and I certainly don’t regret it. More a matter of principle than anything else.

  5. Larry Kreger permalink
    May 22, 2013 7:06 pm

    Sorry to keep yakking about this, but Lord–what if Roman Polanski had somehow done “Gatsby” ( he might have liked the idea, it has ominous overtones and an unhappy ending).

    • May 24, 2013 8:54 am

      Hahaha. Yak on, brotha’!

      That would have been something else. Granted, most things Polanksi does are something else.

  6. May 24, 2013 3:05 am

    I have to say I was a bit disappointed by this. It looks absolutely awesome but there is not much drama here, I didn’t really care about the characters. Mulligan and DiCaprio are doing their best though.

    • May 24, 2013 9:00 am

      I can dig that, especially given its clear emphasis on flashy visuals and setting the scene. Did you see the Robert Redford version by chance?

      • May 24, 2013 7:31 pm

        No I haven’t. Should I?

      • May 24, 2013 8:07 pm

        Hell no. Not nearly as flashy, but ten times worse in just about every other way. No bueno.

  7. Anna I. permalink
    May 24, 2013 3:09 am

    “An Australian with a glitter fetish”, haha, don’t be so mean! 😉 Least he’s got a vision.

    Haven’t seen it yet, but like you, as I was waiting for its release I watched the “Robert Redford version”, and I’m mighty proud I actually pulled through even though it was quite an ordeal. Mia Farrow made me wanna shoot myself, but I gotta say I did like Robert Redford’s performance, especially for the subtlety that the novel suggests. As much as I love Leo (and he’s the main reason I’ve been itching to see this for two years), I wonder whether he can beat Redford’s performance, ’cause even though I think Leo’s the best actor of his generation, subtletly ain’t exactly his middle name. But then again, A Baz Lurhmann will turn this into such a different thing that I doubt I will even compare the two versions.

    Can’t wait to see it. Heard mainly not so good things. Glad you were liking it.

    • May 24, 2013 9:04 am

      Haha. Oh, you know what I mean. Aussies are the freaking best anyway.

      And you deserve a slow clap for making it through the Redford version. I wish I could actually comment on Redford’s performance, but given how little he actually shows up during the first half of the movie, I didn’t really get a chance to see him strut his stuff. Not exactly losing sleep over it though. And I’m with you on Leo. The dude can act, but some subtlety would go a long way.

      It’s apples and oranges between Luhrmann’s version and the Redford version, so keep me posted if you give it a go. Hope you dig it!

  8. May 25, 2013 2:01 am

    This one did not work out for me old sport. I think it has to do with the expectations I had based on a known book, this seemed to be a little bit theatrical, too colorful and at times cartoonesque. Maybe a little bit too long as well? Acting was good, although DiCaprio appears to be at his best when directed by Martin Scorsese and perhaps Tobey Maguire looks a little bit as all his previous characters in other movies, can he ever offer another dimension? Even his facial expresions are the same. Maybe its just me that did not like the movie and was a disappointed.

    • May 28, 2013 3:11 pm

      Haha. I hear ya’, man. In defense of Maguire, did you ever see him in Brothers? Forgettable movie, but definitely one of the more memorable performances of Maguire’s as of late.

      And it’s not just you, buddy. You’re probably in the majority on this one given the way folks worship the source material.

  9. May 28, 2013 10:51 am

    Great review! I have yet to see the film but I feel as though people were either severely disappointed or surprisingly pleased with the film. I can’t imagine DiCaprio doing a bad job regardless of how I’d feel about the film overall. The most common negative I’d heard about the film is the music choices oddly enough.

    • May 28, 2013 3:14 pm

      Thanks! The music is definitely a Baz Luhrmann spin and I can imagine some folks weren’t too keen on Gatsby being set to Jay-Z. But hey, that’s just the kind of movie this is and it ain’t gonna jive with everyone. Still, I’d say it’s worth a look if you’re interested.

      • May 29, 2013 9:25 am

        I’ll definitely check it out at some point, I was happy to see you were pleasantly surprised by the it.

  10. Larry Kreger permalink
    May 28, 2013 7:17 pm

    Ok, finally saw the movie! Wanted to walk out about five times but just went to the men’s room to catch my breath ( etc) really and came back.
    Yes, what is going on here is that this is not Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, it is Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby…I was willing to accept that from the start.
    (It seems to me, though, that in adapting the script Luhrmann is either crassing up the original all the time– the Valley of Ashes in the book is purposefully mysterious, Luhrmann tries to make it a HEAVY symbol of the pollution and waste problem of a wasteful society…..
    Surprise– I thought the music was just fine, in fact I thought it was one of the better aspects of the movie. And I really liked the Indian actor who plays the gambler/gangster Meyer Wolfsheim, he is right on and is more believable than most of the characters somehow..
    The big problems are two:
    1) Luhrmann throws all the dramatic material at us with the same level of force, even spelling it out, LITERALLY, for us sometimes,
    2) Why Nick Carraway is so impressed with the corrupt gangster Gatsby is never made convincing. This is not Di Caprio’s fault, it is Luhrmann’s. He botches this up somehow ( such as when Gatsby tells Nick the story of his life, suddenly instead of being in on the action it all takes place in long shot more or less with Maguire’s flat accent summing it all up in a clumsy way…to say the least).
    I think all the actors did pretty damn well with what they were given, but when you have to start explaining motivations to yourself ( Wilson the gas station owner is as much in love with his wife as Gatsby is with Daisy or even more so and so he has been refusing to face the fact she has been cheating on him until he can no longer possible do so_)
    Edgerton’s character ( by the way, Nick went to YALE with Tom Buchanan, NOW he is shocked that Buchanan is such a lout and such a self centered bully?) ( I guess you could say that Nick cares for Daisy and would rather see her with Gatsby, as awful as Gatsby is when you think about it).
    And Joel Edgerton plays Buchanan with a great deal of common sense..for instance, when he realizes Nick is on Gatsby’s side in the hotel room, he just ASSUMES right away Nick has been “bought” (money, money) by Gatsby. From his point of view, what else would he think? And Carey Mulligan DOES act well as the Daisy part allows her, as I said…
    OK, three stars maybe, but only good, not “Great” by any means. And it will be a long time before I ever see a movie by Baz Luhrmann again, that’s for sure.

    • May 29, 2013 1:56 pm

      Hahaha. So proud of you for sticking with it, buddy. And whaddaya know, I totally agree with both of your points.

      1) Oh yeah, subtlety is not Luhrmann’s strong suit whatsoever. That scene where George Wilson was ranting about Eckleburg’s eyes being the eyes of God was blunt as all hell. Definitely one of the more finicky aspects of this movie.

      2) I didn’t get that either. Did not understand why Luhrmann had Carraway put Gatsby on such a pedestal after his death, definitely wasn’t the way I read it.

      Agree with you on the cast and the three-star rating, too. Can’t say I’m converted to the way of Luhrmann either, but hey, it worked a lot better than I was expecting it to. Good music, too. Really jived with the vision as a whole.

      • Larry Kreger permalink
        May 29, 2013 3:46 pm

        I told someone about Luhrmann’s Gatsby, and they said, “Oh, then it’s heavy handed.” What an understatement! I still feel like I have been literally hit over the head with the plot points ( and some of them obviously are not quite Fitzgerald, but we know that already).

  11. Larry Kreger permalink
    May 28, 2013 11:02 pm

    Let me repeat again I had NO problem with the music…and I am not a Jay Z fan…it fits in
    with the general whoop-ti-doo of the earlier sequences and the sad songs are nice to hear.
    This really surprised me, I thought for sure I would hate the music but it may be one of the more successful innovations of the movie…

  12. May 29, 2013 5:26 am

    Reblogged this on melissafergusson and commented:
    Cannot wait to see this! Thanks for the critique ‘Cut The Crap Movie Reviews’

  13. jksilverfox permalink
    June 16, 2013 3:39 pm

    I just started reading the book (for the first time) I can’t wait to finish it and see this movie! Great review

    • June 16, 2013 10:37 pm

      First time?! Damn! This is a big moment in your life! Thanks for the kind words and hope the movie lives up to the book! Keep me posted! Exclamation points!

  14. Larry Kreger permalink
    June 17, 2013 1:07 am

    Warning to jksilverfox: “Gatsby” is an extremely good book but don’t expect too much from it.
    Some people hate it you know ( but then there is that Joyce Carol Oates remark, ” You can hate the Great Gatsby, but that is like hating the Grand Canyon…it will be there for a long, long time and you will not.” ) Well, hope you can just take it for what it has to offer and you really enjoy it! Luckily I think when I read it I knew very little about it (shows you how old I am! )

  15. October 19, 2013 7:08 pm

    You make an interesting point. Luhrmann does have the courage to make this flick differently than most people would expect. That should count for something.

    I’m not sure you’ve changed my opinion, but you have given me something to think about. So there’s that, at least.

    • October 28, 2013 3:09 pm

      Most definitely. Certainly didn’t work when Redford tried to do it justice.

      Haha. There’s always that. Easily one of the more inspired movies I’ve seen all year, and that’s more than I can say for a lot of the noise I’ve had to wade through.

      • October 28, 2013 4:15 pm

        There is definitely a lot of noise released as film.

        In the end, I still think this was some of that noise, but … I’m glad you like it so much more than me.


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