Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Review of "The Great Gatsby"

Friday, I saw "The Great Gatsby" with a mix of emotions. Yes, it's one of my favorite novels of all time but I was scared that director Baz Luhrmann would bloat it with too much pizazz and not enough soul. I was also nervous that hearing modern music would distract me from being in the 1920's.

Can you blame me though? I've dissected this book twice - in high school and more thoroughly in college. It holds a high place for me because of F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing, the themes I can relate to and the idea that it's made for film. I've seen the 1970's version with Robert Redford/Mia Farrow and I loved how Redford played Gatsby with restraint and charm.

So I had a lot riding on this movie and tried to keep low expectations. I quickly reread the book two weeks ago to refresh my mind. My verdict: I was surprised.

It was over-the-top and fun. But at the same time, I felt like it didn't overshadow the movie. The excess was fun to watch but when it was time to focus on the words, I loved seeing the characters come alive. Owl Eyes in the library. Meyer Wolfsheim looking shady. Myrtle Wilson (the beautiful and underrated Isla Fisher).

The movie had a pace that suited the book. Fast and in your face. Slow and subtle for the great scenes. The scene where Gatsby met Daisy at Nick's house was awkward, nervous, exciting and well done. Tn The valley of the ashes was a well-designed area perfect with the Eyes of Eckleburg surveying it all as the "god" of this in-between wasteland.

The acting was superb as I expected it to be. I wish it was released in the fall so Oscar voters would remember it more. The showdown in the Plaza between Gatsby and Tom was an incredible scene and while it made me sad that Gatsby's show of emotion set Daisy off the deep end, it was as tense as I imagined in the book.

- Carey Mulligan was amazing as Daisy, capturing her flightiness but also the unease with the world she was in. As much as Gatsby is the center of the film, so is Daisy and Mulligan made her come alive with richness.
- Joel Edgerton as Tom made his presence felt all over. He was brutish, forceful, arrogant cold and reminded me why I hate Tom's character.
- I knew before the movie that Tobey Maguire would capture the innocence and excitement of Nick Carraway yet also the force needed to challenge Gatsby so he wouldn't be as naive as the book showed. He did it even better. He was our narrator and he captured the mood of the story perfectly
- Leo DiCaprio as Gatsby. No words necessary. The cool, the poise, the nervousness, the control but also the need to remain in control. The nuance of making Gatsby go from a sterotype of excess to a haunted man chasing and captured by his dream. Masterful as expected.

Even more for Leo, near the end he showed how consumed Gatsby was with Daisy. He wasn't just in love, he was lost in it. It reminded you how much of a tragic figure Gatsby is and how his hope became unrealistic. He used his present to capture his past and as Nick warned him, you can't repeat the past.

The chemistry between real-life friends Leo and Tobey was as great as Leo and Carey. Nick and Gatsby become close during the book and Gatsby sees something in Nick that's not just a means to an end. A neighbor, an actual friend. It was like my girlfriend said, she interpreted Nick and Gatsby as very similar in some ways and seeing their relationship showed that.

My gripes were minimal. Yes, I would've loved to hear more jazz but it wasn't totally forgotten in several key scenes. I would've loved to see more of Jordan Baker because she was captivating and I couldn't take my eyes off her (perhaps that's the point since she's not as prominent in the book at points). I would've loved to see Gatsby's dad as I feel that's a moment where you realize Jay Gatz was a real person with folks who knew him before the image.

The ending however made up for it. My college professor said that the last 2 pages of Gatsby are some of the beautifully written in American literature and I can't agree more. Nick waxes poetically about Gatsby looking east - being so close to his dream and yet so far from it. The film brought that out so beautifully that I almost cried.

As my professor said, Gatsby chased the American dream to be somebody and then be somebody to win somebody's heart. The ending reminds you of that failed journey but how powerful looking back is compared to looking forward. What happens when you get what you want, only to not be able to hang on to it?

If you've read the book and studied it, you'll be pleased with how the book came alive and how the characters were as F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted them to be. The film did more justice to the book than the previews hinted at and I think for me, who saw it as a literary guy and not a film critic, I came away pleased.

Apparently, I'm not the only literary guy who agrees either. Check out these reviews from English professors.

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