The Great Gatsby (2013)



Hello Old Sport,

I saw Baz Luhrmann new version of The Great Gatsby last night (finally). It was both exhilarating and disappointing, apparently due to Luhrmann’s desire to infuse the film with his sense of “hyper-realism”, (overly saturated colors, frenetically paced editing) weird film score which anachronistically jumbles hip-hop and jazz diminishing the power of both, over-reliance on digital special effects which were all too apparent, and a screenplay which finds it necessary to spell out for the audience the exact nature of just how Gatsby fell bass-ackward into all that money. Having said that, there is much to like about the film. Most of the casting is spot-on, leagues ahead of the disasterous Redford/Farrow film of 1974. One could not ask for a better Jay Gatsby than Leonardo DiCaprio who perfectly captures the slightly off-center charisma of the character, projecting confidence and authenticity while somehow leaving the impressions that something’s not quite adding up. Carrie Mulligan captures the radiant beauty of Daisy Buchanan, convincingly, and the audience readily succumbs to the infatuation that motivates Gatsby’s every move. The Tom Buchanan of Joel Edgerton is convincingly brutish and seductive; a perfect “bad boy”. Jordan Baker is portrayed with suitable vacuousness by Elizabeth Debicki. A special mention should go to Amitabh Bachchan as Meyer Wolfshein, a shady character with an unsettling quality of bringing a dark chaos to his one-on-ones with Gatsby and Nick. Which brings me to the one misfire: the casting of Nick Carraway. Tobe McGuire is easily outgunned in this film often shooting blanks when live acting-ammo is needed. The result is a washed-out, pitiful Nick instead of the young idealist against which the corruption of the principal characters stands in contrast.

Regarding the score, it seemed that Luhrmann mixed the music for two purposes: (1) commercial, to attract millennials to the movie, and (2) artistic, to show the universality of movie’s themes. The former succeeded but not so much the latter. One can think of Woody Allen using iconic Gershwin and jazz standards in many of his films to unhook his films from the contemporary setting they are often placed in. In a Woody Allen film this works since his scores are classical and iconic.  Unfortunately, this cannot be said of the music used in the Gatsby film, and the artistic motive, if it even existed, is not realized.

In summary, Baz Luhrmann hasn’t made the definitive The Great Gatsby, but ups the ante considerably, mostly capturing the combustiable mixture of decadence, passion, and ambition that fueled F. Scott Fitzgerald’s imagination. Oh well, perhaps in another 40 years. But until then, we’ll beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Best regards,

t.j. eckleburg


About peanaughtgallery

Computer/Cognitive Scientist and Renaissance Man
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2 Responses to The Great Gatsby (2013)

  1. mikeofnewyork says:

    Five star review, Old Sport ! DiCaprio’s performance was everything that the lame Redford performance was not. The rough and tumble background of Gatsby, hidden behind a veneer of civility and polished manners, along with his natural charisma, was captured by DiCaprio. Most of all, he captured Gatsby’s combustibility. I also agree with your assessment of all the other actors, including Tobey Maguire. My only serious preference for the 1970’s movie was the sexy and icy Jordan Baker, with that slightly deep voice.

    The only point where I differ is the music, which was OK with me. 1920’s jazz at the time was wild sinful jungle music, Luhrmann talked about how he needed to find a modern equivalent. His hip-hop and souped-up jazz work for me.

    In the tradition of film critics, you give Woody Allen too much credit. He only uses pre-rock popular classics, jazz, etc. in his movies because that’s the only music he likes. He says how he stopped listening after Chuck Berry came on the scene. The music is important in his good films and captures their spirit: Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in Manhattan, Dixieland jazz when things become real fun, as in a chase scene with a giant banana in Sleeper, parts of Midnight in Paris, etc.

    But does that mean his choice of music captures the timelessness of his stories in his good films ? Maybe accidentally.

  2. It is always a dicey proposition for a director to be anachronistically-forward, i.e. choose film elements that are forward in time, like using rap music for a film set in the ’20s. Sometimes this works, but more often than not it seems driven by commercial rather than artistic reasons. Now it is entirely possible to set The Great Gatsby in the 21st century and perhaps still be true to the spirit of Fitzgerald’s work; but to have one foot in 1920 and the other in 2013? I don’t think so.

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