The Great Gatsby (2013)
Dir: Baz Luhrmann
This 5th film adaptation (including a lost silent one) of F. Scott Fitzgerald's seminal novel is an expansive, gaudy, and beautiful movie that captures the extravagance of the Roaring Twenties. Baz Luhrmann's huge production brings the world of the novel to stunning life, while never losing track of the core soul that makes up the story.
Nick Carraway is a young man from the Midwest, who has come to New York City to be a part of the fevered dream of life that city promises. He rents a small cottage by the bay on long island, situated in between the huge mansions of the insanely wealthy. Across the bay lives his cousin Daisy with her husband Tom. And Nick's neighbor is none other than they mysterious Jay Gatsby, who's mansion is host to the largest parties in all of New York.
Either you've read the book or you haven't, and either way there is no point in describing more of the plot. The film is extremely faithful to the book in it's plot, dialogue, and narration. The frame story consists of Nick talking with a psychiatrist about the events of that summer he spent in New York, and he begins to write about his experiences, becoming a vessel for Fitzgerald's soulful aesthetic to make its way into the film.
The performances are all stellar, bringing the characters depth; and the film does a wonderful job of getting us inside each of their heads. Tobey Maguire is great as Carraway. He brings a boy scout quality to the idealist character, and as the high life of decadence slowly consumes him, he loses his childish aura and essentially becomes Fitzgerald himself. Leonardo DiCaprio is perfectly cast as the mysterious Gatsby, with that unstoppable smile, and secrets that seem only not to slip out because of the smoothness of his speech. Carey Mulligan gives the difficult role of Daisy a sincerity that makes her character much more sympathetic than in any other film version.
Baz Luhrmann directs the movie with marvelous spectacle. The party scenes at Gatsby's are breathtaking in their fullness and extravagance. Luhrmann has always had an eye for flare, and that comes to dizzying heights in this film. The soul of the movie, however, is not at all lost in the glitz and glamor of the Jazz Age. Luhrmann creates scenes that are intensely personal and dramatic. The climactic scene in a New York hotel room is devastating.
In watching this film version, I was struck for the first time at how sad the story truly is. All of these people have the potential to be good right in front of them, but they are all so blind they can't help but hurt everyone that surrounds them.
Perhaps the most noticeably interesting thing about this film is its soundtrack. Consisting of all modern music, including rock & roll, rap, and electronica, the score at first seems to be a strange, if not bad, fit. However, the music seems to bring the Jazz Age alive in a way that connects it to our modern age of glitz, glamor, and fun times.
Gatsby is a wonderful movie. The film is a marvel to look at, and its wholehearted embrace of the story is moving and entertaining in the most Hollywood of ways. And that plays out quite well for a movie like this. It's characters hide their true feelings and thoughts behind the cloud of booze and lies, and the movie guards its honesty behind the production and sets, but it heart is there, and boy can it sting.
NOTE: I rate movies 1-5 stars and never use half stars because they are pointless.