The Great Gatsby Movie Review
It’s strange that The Great Gatsby has been so heavily marketed to women. Because, this film doesn’t cater to the sensibilities of female driven “romantic” films at all. The movie revolves mostly around men. Mostly rotten manipulative men trying desperately to control their little corners of their world… and failing at doing so. And, the women that populate the film are almost non-entities, and seem to be objects of control for these characters. And, in the middle of it all is a guy who used to be writer.
Of course, this is all about “The Great Gatsby”, the film adaptation of the book most of us were forced to read in high school. And, who else to bring this to the big screen than… Baz Luhrmann? Yes. Baz Luhrmann, the guy that brought us Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet, and Strictly Ballroom. If you know his work, he’s… kind of excessive. Moulin Rouge is a perfect example of this. While I am kind of a fan of Moulin Rouge, it’s stylistic excess is certainly not for everyone. The Great Gatsby teeters that line, but manages not to overstep that line of excess. Baz Luhrmann’s filmmaking here is remarkably restrained. And the only times in which it is unrestrained is the moments that almost seem intentionally over-the-top. The Great Gatsby lends itself to Baz Luhrmann’s sensibility, but works differently than it has in the past. With Moulin Rouge, that film’s excess was very big and broad and beautiful in a way that seemed so genuine and so true to that world. Meanwhile in this film, everything has a sense of artificiality and fakeness. This, I believe, is intentional. In this case, the world of the film is rotten at the core, but on the surface, it is nothing but a good time.
The way the film treats this kind of “false” beauty is remarkable. Baz Luhrmann does such interesting things with subtext and building concept. The first big party we’re at in the film, it’s HUGE, insane, and kind of jaw-dropping the scope of it all. Next time we’re at a big party, it’s almost entirely different. The concept of what this film represents reveals itself, and when it does, the party doesn’t seem very fun anymore. It seems downright gross, and this is all done without having to needlessly beat the point into the viewer’s head.
We all know that Leonardo DiCaprio is a great actor, but do people really acknowledge the kind of emotional range he has? He really impressed me with Django Unchained, and he impresses me here. At once, he radiates such warmness as a character while maintaining an undercurrent of menace. He plays the role of Gatsby as a deft balancing act between multiple emotional/psychological states that he exists in. He does this so well, you might not even notice when a character shift takes place. But, even so, this film is mostly Tobey Maguire’s. He plays the role of our primary protagonist Nick Carraway, who plays the straight man to everyone else’s madness. He’s also the moral compass of the film, and we see most of everything through his eyes. If this performance is bad, then the whole movie would fall apart. But thankfully, he performs well here, and can navigate those emotion/character shifts better than he did as… say, Peter Parker. Carey Mulligan is also excellent here in the role of Daisy Buchanan, but like I said before, the female roles in this just don’t seem to be as meaty as the roles the men get. More on that in a second…
Joel Edgerton plays Tom Buchanan, who is the central antagonist in the film. But, the interesting thing about him is that he plays a “villain”, but a believable villain. At no point in the film is his motivation ever murky or unclear. We know who he is, and what kind of man he is. And, we understand him even if he’s kind of a scumbag. But, Gatsby is a dishonest prick who wears a smile that looks so genuine, but hides deeper truths. One scene demonstrates the push-&-pull of these dynamics as Gatsby & Buchanan try to manipulate Daisy, and she caught between the two. It’s an incredibly powerful scene that demonstrates that neither of these men are “good”, and that they’re both, at their cores, rotten people. The story takes a darker turn because of this towards the end, allowing the characters to embrace the personas. Well, the male characters at least. The women who populate this movie do nothing more than dance, wear tons of makeup, service men, and worry about the men in the film if we weren’t already. I understand that this film is VERY indicative of the times of the 1920′s (especially in the case of race relations back then). But, could they not give them a little more to do? It’s interesting how, for so much of the film, we know almost nothing about the women in the film (with the exception of Daisy), and they simply seem to exist as (a) lovers, (b) beings that worry about men and nothing else, (c) background dancers, or (d) all of the above. It’s such a shame, because they have a talented collection of actresses present who have almost nothing to do.
All one can do is shrug. The film, as you might guess from Baz Luhrmann’s involvement, is gorgeous to look at. Every shot is composed with the eye of a painter. It’s jaw dropping some of the visual trickery that is present here. But, not all of it is perfect. It takes time to get used to, but the hip-hop tracks can be a little jarring, especially for a period piece. I know Luhrmann is always interested in taking period projects, and find ways to make them contemporary.
For the most part, when you settle into the rhythm of the film, you’ll see why they chose hip-hop. But, one of the strangest flaws is the editing, and this mostly involved with the first act. There’s some super sloppy editing, and certain scene transitions and changes that feel wonky or unfinished. There is a lack of polish to that first act. And, again… The lack of female characters who have… you know, character. But, for the most part, if you are absolutely dragged to see this with your girlfriend, you’ll probably end up enjoying it more than you think. It isn’t the dull romance the trailers are selling. There’s much more on its mind than romance, and those willing to give it a shot will enjoy themselves.