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Tuesday, August 27, 2013


For this Dan's Discs, I've got a full review of Baz Luhrmann's THE GREAT GATSBY.
It was one of the year's most anticipated films, but it just did not deliver on the screen.
Now, I've heard some praise the film's use of 3D and I thought Leonardo DiCaprio was brilliant as always, but the final product did not do justice to one of America's most beloved novels. 
Below is my original review, as it appeared on North/South, 5/24/13.

Review: THE GREAT GATSBY Ain't So Flashy

I went into Baz Luhrmann's THE GREAT GATSBY with only one hope:
To have the decadence of F. Scott's Fitzgerald's classic novel shined up, and displayed, in 3D.
Instead I got a slowly-paced, un-sexy, film of quick cuts that left me wondering: was that luxury?

For the purposes of this film, our narrator and lead, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is coming to us from a sanitarium. Depressed  he therapeutically begins writing the story of the only man he knew who had the gift of being truly "hopeful", Jay Gatsby (the stellar, Leonardo DiCaprio). Gatsby is a man of great wealth and has quite a mysterious history. Everybody in New York City attends his parties and has their own Gatsby origin story, each more outlandish than the last. Carraway beings telling us of his summer spent as Gatsby's neighbor, which involved his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her wealthy husband, Tom Buchanan (played but an outstanding Joel Edgerton), who is also an old college buddy to Nick. 

Daisy and Tom are seemingly living the refined high life, but we are soon made aware that looks can be deceiving. Tom drags Nick to his bohemian, city love nest and begins learning him on the ways of booze and women. This portion of the film was my favorite. The crazily decorated apartment (lots of wild prints and bead work) is crammed with people making love, taking drugs, drinking, fighting and exploring the early stages of The Roaring Twenties. The sequence occurs early on, so you think the film will really take off once we get to visit a Gatsby Party.
It doesn't.

After you get to hear all about Gatsby and how wild and amazingly absurd his parties are, you expect to be blown away. You want grand set pieces. Long takes. Wide shots. You want a million different and exciting things to be happening in the frame simultaneously. Instead we get close ups, cut so swiftly at times you could barely comprehend the previous shot. 
We'll call it "elegance for the Youtubers".
I should have known that's what I was going to get: 
My expectations for this film were built off an amazing trailer, that I saw on Youtube.

When that 1 minute trailer for GATSBY hit, I was was almost giddy.
I am a huge fan of Luhrmann's ROMEO AND JULIET and I still believe that film and not, TITANIC, which came a year later, is the film that made Leonardo DiCarprio. Especially with kids my age (11-12 at the time), who watched movies. I remember he was nominated for 3 MTV Movie Awards for ROMEO and the next year he was nominated again, in the same 3 categories and won Best Male Performance. Well give him another Golden Popcorn, because he is the best performer once again.  

The only other actor in the film who can stand with him was Edgerton, who was also impressive. I don't want to hate on Tobey Maguire, but he brought nothing to the table for me. If Carraway is so messed up that's he's been institutionalized then we need a moving, visceral portrayal. Instead he gives us monotone narration while his words are typed or written on the screen. Which, by the way grew so incredibly annoying that I looked away at times. Once or twice would have been fine, but the "onscreen type" gag was used maybe 10-12 times. It was patter for the 3D release and kind of felt like, "We know the novel is better, so we'll show it to you!".

The guy who gave us MOULIN ROUGE! for $50 million would surely be able to deliver with double (and probably triple) the budget. That's probably what Sony was thinking when they spent over $150 million on the film. Now that GATSBY has come out and not exactly setting the world on fire, they have tried to say the cost was only $105 million. Just like our mystery man, they don't want you asking worrying about how the money comes and goes. 

For a film about elegance and decadence, that cost a bundle, the whole thing felt cheap: 
The trailer, along with it's Jay-Z Produced Soundtrack is all GATSBY had in the tank. 
For the record (no pun intended), I thought the Remix Jazz/Hip-Hop Soundtrack was a just another way to sell a story about the Twenties, to the Twenty Somethings. If anything, I thought it detracted from the film by being very out of place at times. At one point we get diegetic sound of people listening to barely changed version of 'H To The Izzo', (a Jay-Z song). Again, the music is a cool, little, marketing gimmick, and it worked well in the trailer, but here, it was just odd. 

The film moved incredibly slow after the first hour and it was like having Tobey Maguire give you a boring, guided tour through a wax museum. The Daisy, Gatsby story line is far from enthralling and never even ventures towards being sexy. This film should have been THE GREAT GATSBY. It had the director, the top talent and the big budget. On paper, that's a winner, every time. Instead, we got a shell of an epic story: A lot of distractions and window dressings, so that you never stopped to realize there isn't much of anything to sink your teeth into. If they wanted to do Gatsby 2013, they should have gone the distance and modernized the entire thing. At least it would have given us something to dissect. 

Making a great film out of a great novel is never easy.
If you've ever seen Brian De Palma's THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, you know what I mean.
However, Hollywood never let's a great story go away and so we got another film version of Gatsby.
Much like the real Gatsby and it's previous film peers, this GREAT GATSBY could not fully deliver on the promise of greatness. Therefore, I can only give it 3 out of 5 Stars and hope that 2030's Gatsby will be the one that gets the job done.

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