May 21, 2013
Two days before I watched this 2013 version of "The Great Gatsby," I read the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel and watched the 1974 film for the first time. The book was about a man named Jay Gatsby who moves heaven and earth, building his immense wealth from practically nothing, to be with Daisy, the woman he adored who married wealthy Tom Buchanan because rich girls cannot marry poor boys.
This 2013 version was directed by Baz Luhrmann. You will really notice his touch in the lavish and opulent parties that Gatsby held in his West Egg mansion. Luhrmann pushed the envelope again in the musical soundtrack department, as he did in "Moulin Rouge". Imagine making use of unarguably anachronistic hiphop and even rap (by Jay-Z) on top of the scenes from the Roarin' 20s! This is polarizing stuff, you either like it or you don't. I thought it was a brave and original by Luhrmann, but I did not really like it for the film as a whole.
Like the 1974 film, the story-telling was also very faithful to its literary source, even lifting words verbatim in the narration and the dialogues. However, Luhrmann imagined psychological therapy situation as bookend devices, for Nick Carraway to tell and then write all he knows about Gatsby the man, his next-door neighbor for whom he becomes a close friend and confidante. The lavish set design and costumes, already done very well and award-winning in the 1974 version, were further improved and enhanced by modern visual effects. These will definitely be contenders again come Oscar season next year.
The actors really outdid themselves in this edgier, more passionate 2013 version, when compared to the rather safe and straight-forward 1974 version. That three-way confrontation scene that took place during that hot summer afternoon in the Plaza Hotel alone deserves award consideration for ensemble and individual performance from the three central characters. Joel Edgerton had a more seriously haughty and brutish attitude than Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan. Carey Mulligan had the stunning beauty and grace that would make it believable that Gatsby would obsess over someone like her. Mia Farrow simply did not have those qualities before, and was so easy to hate. Mulligan was able to show Daisy's struggle more than Farrow did.
And of course, there is Jay Gatsby himself. Robert Redford played a very perfect Gatsby: handsome, cool, unruffled, confident. However, the Gatsby in the book is not perfect: insecure, nervous, obsessive-compulsive and maybe even delusional. Leonardo di Caprio, I believe, nails this book Gatsby perfectly. Di Caprio is believable as a Gatsby who may have had unsavory means of reaching his present status. You can see the vulnerable chinks in his armor. Redford looked and acted like he was already born rich. My one complaint though is that I think the writers made di Caprio utter the expression "old sport" excessively, but that is the writers' fault not his.
If there was one point that makes this film a little less than perfect, it was the cheesy portrayal of Nick Carraway by Tobey Maguire. I thought Maguire did not look right for the part, and his Nick was too weak, at least when compared to the smart portrayal of Sam Waterston in 1974. Maybe the therapy sessions Luhrmann wrote for his character did not really do Maguire any favors in this regard. When I was reading the book, I did not really get the sense that Nick would become an alcoholic.
In any case, that casting mishap is only a small glitch in the whole picture. This film was very well made and deserves to be seen by all who love the book, or even fans of the 1974 film. It is a vast improvement over the 1974 film. The use of flashbacks in this current version to show us more about the history of Gatsby as a boy and young man was really helpful to understand where he was coming from. The symbolism of the green light and the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg cannot be ignored this time. Too bad I was not able to see the 3D version so I could not comment on that. I can just imagine though how Gatsby's wild parties would have looked wilder or those cool vintage cars racing down the road would have looked snazzier in 3D. Highly recommended! 9/10.