Monday, July 7, 2014

The Great Gatsby (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes is pleasantly surprised with this big-budget remake!

The Great Gatsby is really a timeless story. Whether in the early decades of the twentieth century or in the early decades of twenty-first century, it is a story of how money and power alters one's vision of reality. As a fan of the 1974 version with Robert Redford in the title role, I was kind of dreading Baz Luhrmann's vision of F.Scott Fitzgerald's novel. I did not think they could remake this without trashing the story with modern visuals (something Luhrmann is known for) and making the story hip to sell of few tickets instead of just holding to Fitzgerald's original intent. Let's face Luhrmann's films are either loved or hated. Still, as remakes go the new version that is now out on video is actually a pretty good one. I was pleasantly surprised. 

Leonardo DiCaprio is Jay Gatsby, a flamboyantly wealthy young man that does not have much of a past to speak of but has taken up residency next to a World War I vet, Nick Carraway on Long Island, New York. Overlooking the vast water that separates the island from the mainland, Nick has settled into a modest home and has a modest job as a banker. He is quiet, a bit shy and seeks the quieter life. That is until Jay Gatsby buys the mansion next door. Gatsby with his extravagant lifestyle, peaks Carraway's curiosity and the two men become good friends. Nick seems to be entranced by the lavish parties and all of the opulence that Gatsby has but for Gatsby it is a means to an end. Her name is Daisy (Carey Mulligan). Gatsby has set his sights on Daisy and Daisy seems smitten with Gatsby. But Daisy is married to a boorish lout, named Tom. Tom is a schmuck, no doubt. But is he that dumb to not suspect what is going on with his wife and Gatsby? Nick, at first, is nothing more than an observer of the behaviors of these strange people. As the story progresses, Gatsby's infatuation with Daisy becomes almost too obvious and the conflict begins to head towards a tragic end. Nick by film's end. is as emotionally involved as Gatsby. The bigger they come the harder they fall. Gatsby falls hard. 

The Great Gatsby is not a perfect film, but Luhrmann has made an interesting one where the characters all seem to have a lot more going on in their minds than they say and that is especially true of Tom, played beautifully by Joel Edgerton. He is crude, callous and one begins to wonder what Daisy ever saw in him. How can she not fall in love with the handsome and dashing Jay Gatsby? Luhrmann and Craig Pearce's script dances around each character's thoughts that are never expressed but, yet I began to see by their actions what was going on in their minds. The film is viewed primarily through Nick's eyes and he has come back from the war seeking the quiet life but when he meets Gatsby, a whole new world opens up to him and Nick starts to think that, maybe, this could be him one day. The right thing leads to another... 

The casting of this film is flawless. Leonard DiCaprio is on a winning streak and he has distinguished himself as a Hollywood legend in the making. His performance as Gatsby is terrific as he balances his money and power with madness and a desire to possess Daisy at all costs. Carey Mulligan is simply radiant as Daisy. She is a frail thing that can't seem to make up her mind as to what she wants. Toby Maguire is perfect as Nick. He starts out in the film as a mousy kind of a fellow but invests all of his emotion into the goings on at the Gatsby estate. He invests too much. The remainder of the cast is rock solid with Adeliade Clemens as Catherine, Daisy's dearest friend, Isla Fisher is perfect as the emotionally wrecked Myrtle Wilson and Jason Clarke is her brooding gas station attendant husband, George. 

The Great Gatsby is stuffed with wall to wall production, elaborately produced and full of lush colors, lavish costumes and sets. This is Luhrmann's strength but it is not the only thing going on. The acting is flawless and the script is smart. It lets the audience make up their own minds as to how the characters react and I have to say that is not something you see in films today. Today, films seem to want to describe EVERYTHING and nothing is required of the viewer. The only problem I had with this version is that is tends to sputter in spots. I also felt the modern day music that seems to be peppered throughout the film was a little garish. The score by Craig Armstrong is terrific and it could have been more prevalent throughout the film. The score is worth purchasing on its own and the song, "Young and Beautiful" is heart wrenching and is also worth purchasing as a single download. Still, The Great Gatsby is a solid film, well produced, acted, written and directed. This remake is a pleasant surprise. The Great Gatsby-*** out of 4


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