Sunday, May 12, 2013

Movie: The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is visual treat that effectively captures the excesses of post-war America, during a time commonly known as the Roaring 1920's.

The Great Gatsby is based on the book of the same name which tells the story of wealthy but mysterious Jay Gatsby who owns a palatial mansion in the fictional town of West Egg, on Long Island. The story is set in 1922 and as in the novel, the movie is narrated by Nick Carraway, a young man from the Midwest America, a World War I veteran who has come to work in New York as a bond salesman. During the summer of 1922, he rents a small house on Long Island, which turns out be next door to enigmatic Gatsby, whom Carraway never sees.

Nick goes to visit his cousin, Daisy, who is married to wealthy Tom Buchanan, at their mansion across the bay in East Egg. There he meets Jordan Baker, a promising young golfer who tells him that Tom has a mistress named Myrtle Wilson. Tom, Jordan, and Nick travel to New York, picking up Myrtle who lives with her gas-station attendant husband, George, in an industrial area between East Egg and New York City. They party hard and Tom and Myrtle fight.

One night, out of the blue, Nick receives an invitation to one of Gatsby's parties which he accepts. At the party, Nick manages to meet the elusive Gatsby. Nick is amazed by the elaborate and decadent all-night parties that Gatsby throws at his mansion where booze flows freely, food of every type covers the tables along with dancing girls, bands and fireworks. Nick mentions that he knows Daisy Buchanan and Gatsby later approaches Nick and asks him to ask Daisy to tea at his house so that he can meet her.

Although Nick is reluctant to get involved, he does arrange for the two to meet and Daisy and Gatsby soon begin an affair. Nick learns that Jay Gatsby knew Daisy before she married and that they were both in love with one another but upon his return from the war, she had wed Tom.Gatsby tells Nick that everything he has done, the beautiful house, the lavish parties are all for Daisy. He wants to show her that he now has the money that he lacked five years earlier when he returned from overseas.

Tom eventually begins to suspect that his wife is involved with Gatsby and he is furious despite the fact that he too is having an extra-marital affair. The five of them, Gatsby, Tom, Daisy, Jordan and Nick take a trip into New York on a hot humid night where Tom confronts Daisy and Gatsby and tells them that he knows about them. Gatsby tries to get Daisy to tell Tom that she is in love with him and that she is leaving him, but Daisy is unable to. She discovers that she loves both Tom and Gatsby but that her loyalty lies with her husband.

After a heated argument, Tom drives home in Gatsby's blue car with Jordan and Nick, while Gatsby takes Tom's car and is accompanied by Daisy. In a race to return to the Buchanan's home, Myrtle, Tom's lover who doesn't want to leave Long Island with her husband, runs out to try to stop Tom's car but is run over. When Nick and Tom arrive at the accident scene they are sickened by the fact that Gatsby did not stop.

Worried that the police will blame him for the accident, Tom tells Myrtle's husband, George, that he was not driving his car but that Gatsby was. This piece of information will have significant repercussions for all involved.  Gatsby still believes that Daisy will call him and tell him that she is leaving her husband but that call never comes. Things do not go as planned for Gatsby and in the end Nick leaves New York, disillusioned and disgusted.

The movie closely follows Fitzgerald's novel and brilliantly portrays the 1920s flapper culture and rapid cultural and moral changes that permeated the decade following the horrors of the First World War. Luhrmann captures the dark side of the American dream of the self made man which is corrupted by the excesses of wealth and the immorality of using others. Gatsby was a self made man but one who made his money from illegal activities. He believed that if he just had enough wealth, he could get whatever he wanted and what he wanted was Daisy Buchanan. He used everyone around him to that end, including Nick Carraway.

None of the cast particularly stands out in the movie, but each plays their part well to weave together Gatsby's story. Leonardo DiCaprio is adequate as Jay Gatsby, mainly because he plays a refined gentlemen, part of the nouveau riche, and therefore is in a role that doesn't require much depth. The character doesn't really stretch DiCaprio's limited acting abilities. Toby Maquire is well cast as Nick Carraway, the narrator who hails from the midwest and newly arrived on Long Island. Maguire manages to portray Nick as someone amazed by Gatsby, but uncomfortable and in the end completely disgusted and disillusioned with their lifestyle. Daisy Buchanan is played by Carey Mulligan who does a wonderful job capturing the essence of a woman who married for money and not love.

Much was made of hip hop artist Jay-Z composing songs for the movie with many of us wondering what the director was thinking. However, the mixture of hip-hop and George Gershwin mostly works, giving a very unique soundtrack to the movie, and partnering well with the overwhelming visuals. The sound track adds considerably to the movie experience. Songs include Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Bryan Ferry's Love is the Drug, St. Louis Blues, Fat's Waller's Ain't Misbehavin, Jay-Z's No Church in the Wild, 100$ Bill, and Who Gon Stop Me and Over the Love by Florence and the Machine.

I was disappointed this movie was offered in 3D, of which I'm not much of a fan, partly because watching a 3D movie means I have to wear two pairs of glasses. The other major issue I have with 3D is that I am forced to focus on what the director deems important. If I want to look at the set behind Leonardo DiCaprio, I can't because he stands out and everything behind him is a blur. That's an important part of the cinematic experience that is lost.

Nevertheless, The Great Gatsby is wonderful movie. Enjoy the trailer here and go see the movie. It is worth it.

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