Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Great Gatsby

Film: The Great Gatsby

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained), Carey Mulligan (Drive) and Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man)

Director: Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!)

U.S. Release: May 10th, 2013 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 143 minutes

*** I was unable to attend a pre-screening of the film, but fellow Philadelphia Film Society member and Reel True Video Production Company owner Greg Rouleau offers his guest review below. Enjoy!

With themes of over-indulgence, self-delusion and superficiality, this was quite possibly the perfect project for the excessive production design of a Baz Luhrmann film. With past works including a contemporary but over-the-top Romeo + Juliet and the uber-melodramatic Moulin Rouge!, the director has never been short on style. Here he tackles the “Great American Novel”, with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, and Tobey Maguire as our narrator, Nick Carraway.

From the sprawling opening shot over the Long Island Sound, to the powerful final words of the novel that flash across the screen in Courier New, narrated by Tobey Maguire as he hammers away on his typewriter, we experience a digitally-enhanced 1920s New York where it’s easy to get lost in the entrancing beauty. While never totally succumbing to style over substance, the film makes a bold attempt to capture the dense themes of the Fitzgerald novel, and while it’s not a complete miss, it somehow falls short. 

The driving force behind the story is Nick’s fascination with the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, and Gatsby’s love for Daisy, played tirelessly by Carey Mulligan. DiCaprio and Mulligan generate some mild chemistry that sparks in a few scenes but never quite bursts.  One memorable montage includes the two spending the day together accompanied by Lana Del Ray’s “Young and Beautiful” that recalls Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. The main cast all deliver capable performances, but this flick’s scene-stealer nod would go to Joel Edgerton with his portrayal of Tom Buchanan. This film’s 2 ½ hour length may have been aided by another scene or two with Edgerton and Leo.

Originally planned for a December 2012 release, in the heat of the awards season, it was pushed back to May of this year, presumably to increase profitability. A smart move, because the movie lacks the gravitas of typical Oscar-fodder, and delivers more panache for the summer blockbuster crowd. The elaborate party scenes, with some recognizable contemporary music are infectious and deserved to be experienced on the big screen, 3D or not.

While the film zips along the first 100 minutes or so, the climax is where the film starts to fall somewhat flat. No spoilers here, even if you’re familiar with the novel, it’s hard not to imagine the final scenes could’ve packed more of an emotional punch. There’s evidence that those involved tried to deliver a great movie, dripping with style but not completely devoid of substance, and it’s not. But I think tempered expectations are the key to enjoying this one. Those expecting to be completely intoxicated by Luhrmann’s glitzy, glamorous affair, will have to settle for a decent buzz. 

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C+

*** NOTE: I recently caught the film The Great Gatsby myself and agree, in large part, with Greg's analysis. I, however, enjoyed the finale much more than he did and gave The Great  Gatsby the following rating:

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

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