Friday, June 7, 2013

The Great Gatsby Movie Review

Hollywood is notorious for making movies based on classic and bestselling novels and jazzing them up and twisting them around to appeal to audiences. The Great Gatsby (2013) looks pretty flashy for a movie based on a character driven story which a lot of people dreaded reading in high school. That aspect alone made me leery, but I was enticed by the visuals in the trailer so I saw it anyway.
In the spring of 1922, an era of loosening morals, glittering jazz, bootleg kings, and sky-rocketing stocks, would-be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) leaves his Midwest town and moves to New York City. Chasing his own American Dream, Nick lands next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Within eyesight across the bay lives Nick's cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her unfaithful, blue-blooded husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). It is thus that Nick is drawn into the captivating world of the super rich, their illusions, loves, and deceits. As Nick bears witness, within and without the world he inhabits, he pens a tale of impossible love, incorruptible dreams, and high-octane tragedy.
The Great Gatsby is a character driven story. There's a lot of scenes that are dialogue driven, and they are well written. The script really is great and the dialogue for each character seems believable, sounds contemporary to the time period, and moves the story forward. These dialogue driven scenes are set against some phenomenal sets and costumes. It's not necessarily distracting, but it seems odd to have such rich visual detail in scenes that do little more than have characters talk with one another. Similar to my odd complaint about Funny Girl, the sets were huge, elaborate, and detailed, even if they were mostly digital. There are tons of sweeping camera shots and wide angles that capture a lot of background motion and detail. It seems gratuitous and "visually loud." I'm not sure how else to describe it. It looks amazing, no doubt about it, yet superfluous.
Look at this guy! How can you not love this guy?
Leonardo DiCaprio was an excellent choice for Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is supposed to be a likable character and I can't think of a role I've seen DiCaprio in where you didn't want to root for him. Nick describes Gatsby this way: "He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself." When we see Gatsby for the first time he gushes with charm and likeableness. DiCaprio plays to that character description astoundingly well. Also, he say "old sport" perfectly. Most everyone else's acting seemed overly dramatic and even silly at times. These are good actors, so I blame the director, Baz Luhrmann, for making them act that way.
I would have liked to hear music that was more in times with the 1920's. 20's swing and jazz music captivated the feel of the era. Instead, the music that was used was something called "Electro Swing." It combines old big band swing style music with some techno sounds and beats using synthesizers and electronic drum machines. I've only recently started hearing this niche music genre, and some of it isn't half bad. Unfortunately several of the specific songs used in Gatsby are half bad. I understand wanting to use a sound track that is both marketable to teenage movie goers and wanting to use music from the time period. Electro Swing is a logical choice. But the modern rap vocals used in several songs seem so painfully out of place for a movie set in the 20's that it made me wish they had simply stuck with actual 1920's music.
It's no secret that Hollywood butchers literature in the interest of ticket sales. The end result is a movie with the title of a good piece of literature which, more often than not, has little to do with said good literature. Once in a while we're thrown a curveball and we get a movie that actually holds true to the book it's based on. I have not read The Great Gatsby, but from what I understand, the movie manages to get the books' symbolism and themes across very well. It acts as a cautionary tale about the decadent downside of the American dream. There are themes of aspiring to start over again, social politics and the brutality and betrayal that comes with it, the perception of our own ideals and of those of other people. It comments on the excess of the rich, the recklessness of youth, and materialism and worldliness. With these themes well incorporated, The Great Gatsby does a splendid job of causing us to reflect on our own modern times and struggles.
The Great Gatsby was a good movie. The visuals were incredible, even if they were excessive. DiCaprio was excellent, as usual, and outshines the rest of the cast. The music could have been better if other songs within the same sub-genre had been used. The themes were beautifully incorporated, and should cause us to reflect upon our modern society. I saw The Great Gatsby in 2D, but there were several scenes that made me stop and think, "You know, that would probably look really cool in 3D." I'm glad I saw The Great Gatsby, but I didn't really enjoy it enough to want to own a copy. It's worth catching in theaters, possibly in 3D. Even if you don't catch it in theaters, it's worth the price to rent.

What's a classic piece of literature you would love to see made into a good quality movie? Comment below and tell me all about it!

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