By Dan Metcalf
Clipper Film Correspondent
The Great Gatsby (Warner Bros.)
Rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Amitabh Bachchan, Jack Thompson, Max Cullen, Callan McAuliffe, Adelaide Clemens.
Written by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Directed by Baz Luhrmann.
Whenever a major movie studio announces plans to adapt a literary classic into a film, I immediately begin to wonder how far off the screen version will be from the pages. Many such films are successful, capturing the basic essence of the books, while others miss the mark completely or worse, expose the original stories' flaws (see: any movie based on a book by Stephenie Meyer). The Great Gatsby has been tackled on screen before, yet most audiences have not embraced them. Baz Luhrmann, with the help of Jay-Z, are the latest folks who thought F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel needed another film adaptation.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jay Gatsby, the mysterious billionaire who lives in a huge mansion, just across a Long Island sound from Tom and Daisy Buchannan (Joel Edgerton and Carey Mullligan), who also reside in a huge mansion. Living in a small cottage next door to Gatsby is Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), an aspiring writer and Wall Street bond salesman. Nick is also a distant cousin to Daisy.
Nick spends a little time with the Buchannans and is exposed to Tom's infidelity and debauchery, shared with Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher), the wife of George Wilson (Jason Clarke) a gas station owner with a business located in the desolate area between the upscale areas of Long Island and New York City. Eventually, Nick is also invited to attend one of Gatsby's elaborate weekend parties, where all the movers and shakers frolic and drink until the wee ours of the morning. Nick is eventually introduced to Gatsby via Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki) a beautiful professional golfer and house guest of the Buchannans. Gatsby immediately befriends Nick, sharing his privileged world with him and introducing him to the shady influential characters associated with helping him gain his rapid wealth. Rumors surrounding Gatsby's sudden rise from penniless war veteran into one of Long Island's wealthiest residents swirl around, but do not detract the rich and powerful from partaking of his oppulence.
Gatsby's motives to befriending Nick are eventually revealed as a means by which he can be reunited with Daisy, his long lost love before he entered Word War I, where he earned several medals of honor for bravery. When Gatsby is reunited with Daisy, they recommence their love affair, forcing Daisy to decide between her husband (and unseen daughter), or to get a divorce and live with Gatsby in the kingdom he built just for her. After a drunken retreat to the city, a fight between Gatsby and Tom results in controversy on the way home, as Tom implicates Gatsby in a hit-and-run fatal crash, leading to other tragic consequences.
The Great Gatsby succeeds in staying true to the original spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, and even offers a more optimistic view of what drives the tragic hero than other film versions. For those who love and appreciate the novel, Luhrmann's version of Gatsby will ring true. For those who do not have the slightest idea of what Gatsby is about, it will seem like a major waste of time. It's also no secret that the film hopes to expose rich people as inherently evil, another heavy-handed message that ironically comes to the screens of the world because rich people financed the project.
Besides the deep socio-political undertones that can be derived from the movie, one major problem (that will more than likely relegate the movie to box office doom) is the style in which the story is told. Luhrmann was successful in bending the rules of musicals with Moulin Rouge, but the blending of (executive producer) Jay-Z's rap/hip-hop into the soundtrack of The Great Gatsby quickly becomes cumbersome and distracting. There's a lot of Beyonce' in there as well. It would have been more interesting to see what Jay-Z and his wife could have done by staying true to the era's jazz roots, rather that force rehashed versions of their old tunes into the movie.
DiCaprio delivers the best performance among the other players in the film, and he seems to have captured the conflicted, pure, and vulnerable part of the character. The other actors give adequate, yet somewhat forgettable performances.
So, if you like The Great Gatsby as book, you may enjoy the latest film, if you can stand your classic literature with a hip-hop twist.