The Great Gatsby (2013)


The classic tale of love, lust, living the life, and throwing a great party in the 20’s, all to the sweet and soulful tunes of Jay-Z.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is an aspiring artist who searches for inspiration and passion when he decides to leave the Midwest and travel to New York City, where all of the hustle and bustle is a-foot. Nick finds himself there, looking for his own taste of the American Dream, but also lands next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Jay just so also happens to be across the bay from Nick’s cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who’s with her d-bag-of-a-hubby husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Nick soon finds himself drawn into the captivating world of the super rich, their illusions, deceits, passions, ways of having fun, and most of all: their secrets.

Believe it or not, The Great Gatsby was one of the very-few books that I have actually had the pleasure of sitting down, taking time out of my day for, and read to the final page. It was a hard piece of literature to get through, but thankfully, I had the bragging-rights and all to say that I was able to conquer it, as well as being able to say I knew what the “big surprise” actually was. Can’t say that about many books (mainly because I haven’t read many), but it still had me wondering just what could be made of with this material, if it were ever made for the screen one more time.

And Baz Luhrmann was definitely not the first choice I had in mind.

"Don't worry, Carey. Baz didn't mean it when he said that that folk shit doesn't deserve to be played in his movie."
“Don’t worry, Carey. I STILL like Mumford & Sons.”

Actually, that last statement is starting off on the wrong-foot because I can’t say anything bad against Luhrmann’s direction, or what it is that he tries to do with this material. If anything, the guy tries his damn-near hardest to get past the fact that this is just dry material, made for the sake of reminding everybody how freakin’ awesome the Roaring Twenties actually were. Despite the gimmicky 3D aspect behind this movie (trust me, not even worth the watch in that extra-dimension), the movie does look very purrty and once again, you can tell that Luhrmann really put his heart and feel into making this movie look like it exactly reads out. Loud, lavish parties filled with extraneous amounts of glitz, color, glamour, and loads, and loads of champagne. Being able to match the look I had in my head of what the setting actually looked-like after reading the book, I realized that Luhrmann had a bigger-imagination than even myself was graced with, which makes the movie all the more visually-outstanding.

However, pretty colors, pretty things, and pretty people can only go so far. And in Luhrmann’s case: it’s sad to see. You can jump-start this material with as much exuberance and energy as your little heart desires, but if you can’t get to the heart of the story and feel what it was like to live in this period, then you have all but lost me. That’s exactly what I felt like when I watched Luhrmann try whatever it was that he could to make it seem as if he had actually read the novel, and/or still remembered it to this day. Instead, it just seems like he SparkNote’d the hell out of this thing, went through the motions, and stamp his own trademarks here and there. You know, just for show.

But it’s one of those shows that’s obvious and it lost me about half-way through, once I realized that this movie didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Granted, I wasn’t on-the-edge-of-my-seat considering I knew how the material would play out, and what characters would be doing what in certain situations, but I was still interested in seeing what Luhrmann could pull-off to surprise the hell out of me. Sadly, nothing really seemed to make me fall back in my chair and wonder how he pulled it all off. Everything seems so cut-and-dry with character’s emotions and dilemmas; the “big reveals” are nowhere near being subtle, as they were in the novel; and everybody else here, feels as if they just got out of a Nicholas Sparks novel, but have a fancy-schmancy accent. Okay, maybe the characters aren’t that bad, but they are pretty damn dull. A real shame too, because the cast working with these characters really seem to know what they’re doing, it’s just that the direction isn’t there to help them succeed.

Tobey Maguire plays our narrator for the whole, 2 hours: Nick Carraway. Maguire is alright in a role that doesn’t ask for much, and doesn’t get much back in-return. It’s just Tobey, being Tobey, and whether or not he’s acting like this, or this; you don’t really give a shit what else he’s doing. All you want him to do is not be distracting by how geeky he is, and he wasn’t. Good job, Tobes! New-comer Elizabeth Debicki actually walks away clean with this movie, as she’s the only one who really feels as if she would have been the gal to beat around this period of time, and reminds me of the older-days of Hollywood, where the dames seemed to run rampant all throughout the town. Sort of reminded me of a younger-Kristin Scott Thomas, minus the French and nudity. Pretty bummed out by the latter aspect. Damn you, Baz! Couldn’t “up” the rating to at least a soft R? Bastard.

The Tobe-meister, once again wondering just how Gatsby does it the way he does it. Aka, the same face he has on the whole movie.
The Tobe-meister, once again wondering just how Gatsby does it the way he does it. Aka, the same face he has on the whole movie.

As Nick’s cuzzy, Daisy, Carey Mulligan looks exactly like the character I imagined in my head when I read it all those years ago, but seems slightly-dull in the way she prances around character-to-character, throughout the whole story. The only thing she wants in this whole movie is to just live a peaceful, happy life, but yet; she’s still stuck with the bastard that continues to cheat on her, right in front of her nose. And to make matters worse, she then decides to mess around herself. Pretty smart girl if I don’t say so myself. Playing that philanderer of a hubby, Tom Buchanan, is Joel Edgerton who seems to take a whole box of delight chewing the scenery with his thin-mustache, but it goes nowhere. Instead, it seems like the guy never has anything good to say, morally-right to do, or even brings any happiness around him. He’s just a miserable, sad-sack of a dude that lacks no moral-understanding of what’s going down. In the novel, there was more to him than just a dude looking to get revenge. But, once again, Baz didn’t seem to get that part of the novel. All he saw as an opportunity to get a bunch of people to beat around the bush with one another about who’s sleeping with who. Gets old, real fast.

Thankfully, the only one who saves these characters and this movie is the man himself: Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby. Right from that definitive-shot where we first meet him, Leo seems to be having the time of his life as Gatsby. He’s living the life of a billionaire that looks handsome, wears lavish-colors, likes beautiful things, and always holds hospitality at his upper-most important factor of being a person. He’s everything, any person in their right mind would ever want to be, except there’s more to this dude than you may think. Leo is great at playing the cool, charmer of a man that Gatsby shows-off to everybody around him, but is even better when it comes to peeling-away the layers of who the hell this guy just might be, and whether or not he can be trusted. You never know with this guy, and Leo is very good at keeping us guessing as to when he’s going to just lose his shit, and at what velocity he’ll lose it at. If it wasn’t for Leo, this movie would have fallen down the drain, but with him: it survives by a hair. A relatively longer-than-usual hair, but it’s still ready to be cut-off at any second.

Consensus: Baz Luhrmann knows what it takes to make The Great Gasby‘s fourth, and hopefully, final big-screen adaptation as beautiful and eye-appealing as ever, but all of the effort he puts into the look of it, doesn’t translate well into the drama, the message, the characters, or the overall-feel that the novel originally had. Yup, somehow Jack White songs just didn’t cover what it meant to be a flapper during the 20’s.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

If you look closely, you might be able to see Joel Edgerton's left hand prepare for the twirl of his mustache.
If you look closely, you might be able to see Joel Edgerton’s left hand prepare for the twirl of his mustache.
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35 comments

  1. Yep. Good review Dan. I was very disappointed to say the least. Everything shimmered and looked good. But it was just one big set piece after another. Also, and I’m glad you pointed it out, there was hardly any subtleties when the story changed in certain places. Well. . . there were only 2 ways this could have gone, it could have turned out simply amazing and Oscar-worthy or it could have stunk up the joint. In my opinion, it was the latter.

  2. Haven’t seen it yet so I’m not able to read it but I cheated a bit and read the first sentence… even if it weren’t sarcastic, in my mind, it was so brilliantly sarcastic and awesome. Thanks! 😀

  3. Great review! I am going to se it on the big screen next Thursday!
    I have read the book more than once and I can’t wait to see what Luz Luhrmann has done with the material.
    Thank you!

  4. Nice review Dan. I am hoping to see this one today. From what I heard Leo was really solid along with Carey Mulligan and I’m a pretty big fan of DiCaprio’s good stuff, so I think I’ll at least enjoy him in the role. I was hoping Luhrmann would stick closely to the book’s story and characters but I guess that ship has sailed. Maybe I’ll like it though.

  5. You nail it pretty much Dan. DiCaprio is great as Gatsby, and Mulligan as Daisy, as well, but the whole thing is kind of flat except for Luhrmann’s excesses… which arent enough to carry it to victory for me. 😦

    Good review buddy. Nicely done.

  6. I don’t quite get this:
    ” the guy tries his damn-near hardest to get past the fact that this is just dry material, made for the sake of reminding everybody how freakin’ awesome the Roaring Twenties actually were.”

    Are you saying the novel reminds everyone how awesome the twenties was, or are you saying the new movie reminds everyone how awesome it was.

  7. Good review Dan. I think you were kinder to this boring mess than I was. I literally almost fell asleep in the theater, that’s how little I cared about where the movie was going. I’ve read the book as well, and even though it was a long time ago, I agree that Luhrmann didn’t give a crap about the source material, SparkNoting the hell out of it as you so eloquently put it. He trampled the intentions of the book turning it into a tragic fairy tale focused on Gatbsy instead of making it a cautionary tale about failure of the American Dream. As you said it lacks subtlety and in my opinion ambiguity as well. It literally beats you over the head with everything. I thought that the stylistic flourishes like the modern music didn’t gel at all. I don’t love Tobey Maguire either, but I concur that he didn’t distract from the film. Of course I also think that Leonardo DiCaprio gives one heck of a performance here. I think he was the perfect choice to play such a bull-headed, ambitious character like Gatsby.

  8. I probably will wait since I’m not reviewing it anyways. I think this was the fifth or sixth film version. At any rate, what are you reviewing next?
    moseleyofaaronj.wordpress.com

  9. First of all, thanks so much for your comment on my own review. I figured I’d come over here for a look and must applaud you for yours. You explained things so well (especially with the cast, where a lot of my focus tends to be with my own discussions) and I can’t help but agree with a lot of the points you made. The movie did kinda stall halfway through, almost as if they pulled out so many stops with the glitz & glam scenes that no energy was left over for the rest. Elizabeth Debicki definitely deserves the props, truly embodying the “look” of the time. However tragic his character is, it was great seeing Leo show just how great an actor he is (and for me, it’s a pleasure to see him at all cuz most of his movies aren’t to my personal tastes).
    Anyway, hope you continue to follow my blog for the latest discussions/reviews and I’ll return the favor.

    Take care,
    Jackie

  10. I was completely unaware that there was more than one version.

    Not surprised to hear that this adaptation was lackluster. I was immediately skeptical upon hearing the music used in the trailer. Not to mention the lavish parties seemed a little too…what’s the word I’m looking for…? It makes its point based on the book, but I’m not sure how true it all was to that time period. Then again, I’m not exactly a 20’s expert, so I could just not be knowing what I’m talking about.

    Anyway, from all the negative reviews I’ve been reading, this is probably going on either my rainy day or skip altogether list.

  11. Totally agree about the music, though then again we’re pretty much in agreement most other places too. I didn’t even realize there was a Jack White cover in there for some reason

  12. Somehow after reading your mostly negative review, I was expecting something lower than a 6. I did not enjoy this either. It was pretty, but I wasn’t interested in the story. It just didn’t grab me.

  13. Nice review! You have cemented all my fears. And yet I knew they would be cemented. Baz has a way of overdramatising to the point of uncomfortable laughter and oversaturating to the point of apathy. So, I will prepare to be uncomfortably apathetic when it is released here in Australia. Woot.

  14. Great review as always, I however liked it slightly more than you did. I definitely agree with you that a jazz inspired, less glitzy adaptation would have been more faithful, and certainly would have emphasized the power of the story more. But there was something I still loved about Luhrmann’s vision of Gatsby. See if you agree with any of the points I made here on my review: http://thedarjeelingblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-great-gatsby-review.html

  15. I thought it was kind of the perfect movie to see on the big screen; beautiful and bright and fantastic to look at, without giving you too much time to notice the flaws, ie. Luhrmann’s abandonment of depth. I saw it and loved it, mostly for how glossy it is and Leonardo Dicaprio’s performance. I guess that’s why it’s such a good book; it’s difficult to translate perfectly into film.

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