Movie Review — The Great Gatsby (2013)

by Ryan on May 12, 2013

in Anything Else,History,Pop Culture

With the opening of Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby, nearly every high school student in the nation has an opportunity not to read F. Scott Fitzgerald period classic!  At least that’s the buzz at the high school where I teach.  Fitzgerald’s 1925 work more or less describes the pitfalls of combining American excess with youth during the Roaring Twenties.  Luhrmann’s Gatsby strays from the book in a number of ways, but stays true to that central message.  Here’s the trailer:

The gist from my point of view — visually great to watch; could have been easily edited down to two hours; don’t get hung-up on the changes from the book or the historical inaccuracies, and you should enjoy yourself:  B-

My SPOILER review is below if you want more depth:

This film is extravagant and visually exciting.  I saw the 2D version and was impressed with Gatsby’s parties, New York City, and just about everything else.  It runs hot and cold with its energy, but that has more to do with its run-time edit than anything else.

Leonardo DiCaprio played an excellent Gatsby, Tobey Maguire’s everyman Nick Carraway was a bit stilted at times though, and Joel Edgerton’s Tom Buchanan was a spot-on douche.  Jordan Baker was played perfectly by Elizabeth Debicki.  But for me the most interesting character of them all is Daisy Buchanan, played by Carey Mulligan — the story hinges on her.  Everything Gatsby is revolves around Daisy.

Daisy is caught in a love triangle between her husband Tom and her once-lover, Gatsby.  In the book, she comes across as rather shallow, but Mulligan gives her character a subtlety and vulnerability which shines.  Daisy is kind of a messed up chick, living in the moment in a life of extravagance knowing her husband is cheating on her.  The reappearance of Gatsby in her life shakes up that numbed existence, leading to a tragic end to the story.  Unfortunately, Luhrmann diminishes both Daisy’s presence on screen as well as Tom and Daisy’s daughter who figures critically in the decision Daisy must make in the end.

Minding the historical inaccuracies is just a pitfall of being a history teacher — I just can’t watch period pieces like everyone else.  But, I did have mixed feelings about Luhrmann trying to make this movie “hip” by introducing modern hip-hop to the party scenes.  I know his m.o. (he made a Romeo + Juliet with guns, cars, and grunge in Shakespeare lingo), so I shouldn’t have been surprised.  It’s his thing, but it also didn’t hurt the overall storyline.

The movie was trashed on Rotten Tomatoes, but I wasn’t insulted by the changes from the book.  It’s Hollywood — I get it.  For its faults, it’s still the best rendition of The Great Gatsby on screen.  If you’re interested, check it out — you’ll walk away entertained.

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