Monday, November 7, 2016

#2,243. The Great Gatsby (2013)

Directed By: Baz Luhrmann

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton

Tag line: "Can't repeat the past? ...of course you can!"

Trivia: Baz Luhrmann said in an interview that the Gatsby mansion was actually his old high school in Australia along with some computer graphics

I never read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, nor have I seen the 1974 movie starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow that was based on it. But even if I had, I doubt either would have generated as much excitement for the jazz age as this 2013 version did.

While languishing away in a mental health facility, former Wall Street broker Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) reflects on his days in New York City, when, at the height of prosperity in the 1920s, he rented a house in West Egg, Long Island, right next door to the mansion of a multi-millionaire named Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). 

Nick’s cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), lived just across the lake with her wealthy husband (and Nick’s old college chum) Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Tom, it turns out, was less than an ideal spouse; he had a mistress, Myrtle (Isla Fisher), who he visited whenever he was in the city, and didn’t even try to hide his dalliances from his wife. Nick tagged along once on one of Tom’s jaunts, and experienced some of what the fast life had to offer, but as it turned out, it was merely a precursor of what was to come.

Out of the blue, Nick received an invitation to attend one of Gatsby’s extravagant weekend parties (he’s proud to point out that he is the ONLY one to receive such an invitation… everyone else simply showed up). As Nick soon discovered, however, the elusive millionaire had an ulterior motive for wanting to meet him; years earlier, Gatsby had been romantically involved with Daisy, but lost touch with her when he went off to fight in World War One. Even though she was married, Gatsby desperately wanted to rekindle that romance, and asked Nick to set up a meeting. Though he barely knew the man, Nick agreed to help Gatsby, and the two became fast friends. But neither was prepared for the drama, or the chaos, that was soon to follow…

Director Baz Luhrmann pulls out all the stops for his updated version of The Great Gatsby, doing for the 1920’s what he did for turn-of-the-century Paris in Moulin Rouge. Utilizing hip-hop music by Jay-Z (not to mentio0n the excellent tune “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey), Luhrmann helped modern audiences feel the excitement of the Jazz Age. As a result, The Great Gatsby, despite being a dramatic love story, has an energy to it that’s as vibrant as what you’d find in any action film (Gatsby’s parties are wild and out-of-control, with an electricity that had me wishing I could attend one myself). The movie is definitely effects-heavy, utilizing its share of “green-screen” shots to bring this era to life. Yet despite its sometimes artificial look, these effects also had their moments of brilliance (I loved the shots of Gatsby’s yellow car racing through the streets of New York).

DiCaprio is… as always… quite good as the mild-mannered Gatsby, whose demeanor masks a darker side that’s only hinted at through most of the movie, while Tobey Maguire delivers what I consider to be his finest performance as the wide-eyed newbie drawn into high society (ever since I was a kid, my favorite character in classical literature was Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island, and I always wanted to trade places with him. After seeing this movie, I instead want to be Nick Carroway). In addition, I can see why Gatsby, or indeed anyone else, would fall in love with Carey Mulligan’s Daisy, a gorgeous woman of the world whose eyes occasionally reveal a glimmer of innocence (reminding me, in a way, of Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s). The scene in which Gatsby invites Daisy to spend an afternoon in his vast estate is among the film’s most romantic sequences, and it’s because of DiCaprio and Mulligan that it’s as impressive as it is. Rounding out the main cast is Joel Edgerton, slimy as hell as Tom, and Isla Fisher, who convincingly walks a fine line between an alluring beauty and a common harlot.

With its excellent performances, as well as its director’s unmistakable style and flair for extravagance, I’d like to think that even F. Scott Fitzgerald himself would agree this version of The Great Gatsby brought his words to life like nothing has before

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