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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Great Gatsby (3-D) | Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Isla Fisher, Carey Mulligan | Review

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3sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE Judy Thorburn

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3lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE

The Great Gatsby

Over the years there have been several big screen adaptations of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 literary classic, The Great Gatsby, including the 1974 bland version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. If nothing else, Australian director Baz Lurhmann's (he also co-wrote the screenplay with Craig Pearce) take on what is considered one of the greatest American novels, is the most visually spectacular, complete with overkill of flash, glitz, and razzle dazzle.

The story, set during the Roaring Twenties, is told from the point of view of Nick Carraway (Tobey McGuire), a Wall Street stock broker with dreams of being a writer. Committed to a sanitarium for depression and alcoholism, he is advised by his shrink (Jack Thompson, "Breaker Morant," "Australia") to start writing as a means of therapy.

Seated in front of a typewriter, Nick begins to recount prior events that led up to his present state of affairs. Told in flashbacks, Nick recalls the Summer of 1922, when he left the midwest and rented a cottage in nouveau-riche West Egg, Long Island, right next to a mansion owned by the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who had built a reputation for throwing lavish, extravagant parties where all kinds of interesting influential people just show up. Gatsby has become the subject of gossip among the elite because of his questionable background and means by which he attained his great wealth.

Across the bay in the upper crust enclave of East Egg lives Nick's cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) who is married to wealthy, former polo player Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), an arrogant fellow prone to philandering. Tom's mistress is a floozy named Myrtle (Isla Fisher), who, in turn, is married to George (a wasted Jason Clarke) a quick tempered garage mechanic.  As it turns out, five years earlier, Gatsby had a love affair with Daisy, whom he left behind when joining the army.  Regardless of the fact that she has since moved on, Gatsby is still in love with Daisy and is determined to win her back.

Captivated by the millionaire and his extravagant lifestyle, Nick soon is befriended by Gatsby and made his confidante. Although thrilled by the perks of being his constant companion and experiencing fast cars, women, speakeasies, and all the fun that money can buy, Nick is eventually drawn into a web of lies and deceit after Gatsby asks him to arrange a meeting with Daisy.

Behind all the pretty facade of the ultra rich, beautiful people, with their exciting parties and expensive toys The Great Gatsby is essentially a tragic tale.  As the story unfolds and secrets are revealed, we discover all that glitters is not necessary gold.  One can re-invent themselves and try to recapture the past, but as the Beatles sang, “Money Can't Buy Me Love” nor, let me add, happiness.

In recent years, Di Caprio has gravitated towards playing characters such as the real life Howard Hughes and J. Edgar Hoover, who were powerful but flawed, and Gatsby sure fits the bill. As the fictional millionaire, DiCaprio conveys the many aspects of his character, from the charismatic, handsome, debonaire outer shell to his deeply rooted insecurity. The only glitch in his portrayal is the phrase “old sport” that he repeats to the point of being pretentious and annoying.  Mulligan is pretty, but fails to convey what possessed Gatsby to find Daisy so mesmerizing and irresistible.  McGuire seems miscast as Nick Carraway,  portraying him as a passive young man standing on the sidelines, as he witnesses a tragedy unfold. Even worse is the strange casting of Indian actor,  Amitabh Bachchan making his Hollywood debut as Gatsby's Jewish associate, Meyer Wolfshiem. Newcomer, tall and lithe Elizabeth Debicki as Daisy's best friend, pro golfer Jordan Baker, makes an impressive debut in the few brief scenes she is in.

Director Luhrmann is known for his distinctive style of bold, colorful filmmaking that is far from traditional.  That's fine if it works to enhance the storytelling experience.  But pushing the envelope with bigger, grandeur kaleidoscopic images filling up the screen that are too surreal for its own good can be a distraction.  Too often, the CGI is unconvincing and too comic book-like which takes you out of the story. Nevertheless, the period set designs and costumes by Luhrmann’s wife, Catherine Martin are gorgeous and his attempt to immerse audiences with sweeping camerawork by cinematographer Simon Duggan, that captures the excessive party atmosphere featuring dancers, flappers and musicians is breathtaking.  However, factored in is an anachronistic soundtrack featuring music from Jay Z, Beyonce, Florence and the Machine and Lana Del Ray. In my opinion that out of place element didn't work for Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge and it doesn't work here.

Luhrmann is clearly drawn to iconic tales about doomed romance.  Unfortunately, the narrative  is overshadowed by what can best be described as exaggerated style over substance.

It was an ambitious but failed attempt by the filmmaker to stay faithful to the material while at the same time staying true to his unique vision.  Like most of the rich, beautiful people that inhabit the story, Luhrmann's film, with all its fake action and candy colored visuals comes across as pretty to look at but artificial and shallow.  

As the narrator, Nick,  at one point states, “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled” watching what unfolded before my eyes.  I couldn't have put it better.

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