Movie Review: The Great Gatsby (2013)

Posted: May 17, 2013 in Drama
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Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a bond trader and part-time author who rents a small house in West Egg, Long Island next to the opulent mansion of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio)  Gatsby seems to have a party every week, and Nick seems to be the only one who gets an invitation to his parties.  The rest seem to be party crashers and hangers-on. Nick is wondering why a man who pals around with Hollywood starlets or the police commissioner would want to invite him to one of his glamorous parties.

The answer is very simple,  Gatsby wants to be reacquainted with Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchannan (Carey Mulligan).  Gatsby and Daisy first met and fell in love with Gatsby five years ago, but at the time, Gatsby was a poor war veteran, and Daisy could not wait for him to come back from World War I.  Instead Daisy married Tom Buchannan, (Joel Edgerton) a rich, handsome, hulking ex-football player and serial carouser.  Tom is currently cheating on Daisy with Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher) wife of a local auto-body shop owner.  Daisy is enamored with the idea of leaving his cheating husband and running away with her first love, but doubts do crop up about Gatsby, chief among them, where did Gatsby get all his money?  Does Daisy leave Tom?  Or do those persistent doubts about Gatsby kick in?

I have decidedly mixed feelings about this version of The Great Gatsby.  My first impression was that it was a very loud movie, the music was loud, the people were loud, the colors were loud, even the clinking champagne glasses are loud.  But then I thought, wasn’t this the Roaring 20’s, until the crash, unregulated Wall Street money fueled a lot of wild parties, especially among the nouveau riche like Gatsby.  I think the stodgy staid image of the 20’s that I had were from an earlier version of this movie from 1974 which I only saw parts of, but when I think about the reality of the 20’s people like Gatsby probably had big yellow cars and loud parties, and used their money to buy influence.

What I initially thought of as a weakness in Baz Luhrmann’s version, namely the flashiness, the grandeur, probably turned out to be its greatest strength. The interplay of sound and color did make the movie much more lively then I imagined the book to be, and much more enjoyable to watch.  And the movie stays surprisingly true to the book, except for one detail that those who haven’t read the book wouldn’t even notice. So this is a movie that stays true to the book and adds the visual style of the era. So far so good.  But not every attempt to modernize this movie works.  There is the music, which is a mixture of the Charleston, and hip hop music, that’s because this movie’s executive producer is the ubiquitous rap mogul and ruthless self-promoter Jay Z, who also manages to get his ubiquitous wife Beyonce onto the soundtrack.  A stunt that falls flat.

The acting for the most part falls flat too, which is hard to believe with so many good actors in the film.  Tobey Maguire is very good, he plays the role in a low key manner, but still the character burns with intensity.  Leonardo DiCaprio adopts some kind old money Franklin D. Roosevelt accent, and says old sport so many times that it grated on me.  My best guess is that he was trying to play Gatsby as a phony, a newly rich guy, who puts on airs to try to impress others.  Or maybe it was just a bad performance, hard to believe coming off his electric performance in Django Unchained.

Carey Mulligan gives an oddly detached performance, I never got the sense that she was emotionally invested in the role.  I wanted to see her cry or at least show some emotion, but instead she was an ice princess.  Her voice sounded like Betty Boop, it was so high pitched and ethereal.  I’m guessing she chose that voice to cover her British accent, but her American accent slipped a few times anyway.  Nobody did a worse accent than Isla Fisher, this was a horrible New York accent, I mean awful, to cover her Scottish accent.  The role of Mayer Wolfsheim was played by Indian actor Amitabh Buchchan.  The casting here was a twofer, bring in the Indian audience, here and worldwide.  And deflect charges of Anti-Semitism by casting Wolfsheim, a viciously odious Jewish stereotype, with an actor of a different ethnicity.  Obviously Mr. Bachchan never read the book,  or he would have turned down the role.

You however, reading this blog should read the book before seeing this movie, it is a wonderful book, marred as it is by the disgraceful character Mayer Wolfsheim.  It pains a vivid picture of life in the 20’s.  The movie only enhances the picture that the book paints.  Here is a link to the book review I did for The Great Gatsby on this very blog.  Enjoy both.

The Great Gatsby:  Acting aside, pretty great.


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