Andy Bockelman: DiCaprio aside, ‘Gatsby’ is not that great
May 16, 2013
"The Great Gatsby," PG-13
Rating: 2 out of 4 stars
Run time: 143 minutes
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton
Steamboat Springs — As much as Hollywood may deny it, some works of literature just can't function on the silver screen. No matter how much glitter and glitz you throw into the mix, "The Great Gatsby" just doesn't shine the way it should.
In summer 1922, the United States is a prosperous place, full of young, bright-faced people intent on living the good life as long as they can. As Wall Street booms, bond salesman Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is one of the few not to be swept up in the decadence of the upper crust, though his proximity to the lavish affairs of the Long Island town of West Egg has him intrigued.
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No one throws a better party than Nick's own neighbor, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man of immense wealth with a palace to show it. The two strike up a friendship, though Nick remains unsure exactly what he could offer the man who has everything.
Gatsby's true intentions involve Nick's cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), wife of the powerful Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) and the girl who stole his heart years before. With his sights set on winning back his lost love, Gatsby reinsinuates himself into her life only to find recapturing his past isn't as simple as he thought.
DiCaprio has done the bit before where he's the dreamy outsider just on the fringe of society, never entirely shunned but also never one of the gang. Although he retains a sense of optimism, Leo's Gatsby is more forlorn than his starry-eyed Jack from "Titanic," unable to admit his reputation for providing the East Coast its premier nightlife spot is all built on a fabrication desperately spun in the hopes of winning back the woman he couldn't have in the first place.
The capable star lets us see a troubled soul, one who's a complete fraud yet a paragon of truth when it comes to his lady love, staring at that famous green light through the foggy night until the wee hours of the morning.
DiCaprio's real-life best friend Maguire has an admirable showing as Gatsby's impressionable go-between and only true companion, who also serves as the narrator despite a voice that doesn't serve the purpose as well as another actor’s might.
Mulligan is one of the few actresses today who could pull off the paradox that is Daisy, enamored with the sense of excitement that surrounds her enigmatic ex, yet drawn back to her spouse by a sense of duty, fear or both.
It's easy to see why, with Edgerton threatening as the scion of old money, thoroughly convinced of his own superiority to the nouveau riche, happy to cheat on his wife with a working class mistress (Isla Fisher) but damned if he'll let her think about embarrassing him in turn at one of Gatsby's gaudy get-togethers.
It's like a New Year's Eve bash every weekend at the stately home of the mystery man some say has more money than God, and Baz Luhrmann must have had the time of his life crafting controlled chaos in such flapper-filled shindigs at Gatsby's home or the many speakeasies of the Roaring '20s.
Buying in bulk is probably the way to go if you need enough hooch to fill a lake or enough streamers to stretch from New York to the Midwest. Still, no matter the quantity of bursting Champagne bottles, confetti explosions or impromptu Charleston numbers, the idea of framing these celebrations in 3-D seems more than a tad silly.
The technology that makes everything appear more layered at least serves a purpose in the party scenes, but why Luhrmann thought he'd need it for the whole movie is confusing.
Artistic choices like the contemporary soundtrack overseen by Jay-Z have the same problem. It's not that they're bad or even badly done, it's just one thing after another that draws us further and further out of the time period christened by F. Scott Fitzgerald as "the jazz age."
Sorry, but 21st-century gangsta doesn't sync with 1920s gangster no matter how hard you try.
Luhrmann's handling of Fitzgerald's masterpiece is one indicative of the masses criticized by writers of the lost generation, with all the emphasis on showmanship and hardly any on substance until it all comes tumbling down. True, the "Moulin Rouge!" filmmaker tries to slow things down and let us understand what makes a man like Gatsby tick, but, as in "Romeo + Juliet," his perception of classic romances turns great love stories into trite little operettas.
Like his tragic protagonist, Luhrmann starts out as best he can, inevitably aiming too high and taking all the wrong paths in trying to achieve a noble goal. You want to like his movie, but your sense of taste — as well as the voice of your high school English teacher — screams absolutely not.
If all you need is willing actors and impeccable costumes, the newest version of "The Great Gatsby" is for you. However, should you desire something of higher quality than a flashy book report cobbled together by someone who relied too heavily on Cliffs Notes, you may do well to look elsewhere, old sport.
Andy Bockelman is a Craig resident, freelance writer and Denver Film Critics Society accredited film fanatic who occasionally reviews movies playing in Steamboat Springs.
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