Monday, January 5, 2015

Movie #297: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is a Baz Luhrmann film, based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher, and Joel Edgerton. I may be one of the only people in existence who came up through the US public education system and didn't read the book, so my opinions are based solely on the film.

The story starts at a sanitarium, where Nick Carraway (Maguire) is disgustedly telling his woes to a doctor. He used to work in New York, and then something happened to sour him on all of humanity. He recounts the story of the summer he lived in a cottage across the river from the opulent home of his cousin, Daisy (Mulligan) and her loutish husband Tom (Edgerton). Carraway gets sucked into the fun of drinking and sex; Tom takes him to meet his mistress Myrtle (Fisher) and her sister Catherine (Adelaide Clemens) and they all hit it off.

But then Nick meets Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio), the reclusive and immensely wealthy guy living in the freaking castle next door. He wants to meet Daisy for tea; turns out he used to date her some years back, and wants to reconnect now. And then things just spiral out of control, like they do; the truth about Gatsby slowly comes to light (he was poor but felt it was his destiny to rise; he served in the Army, left Daisy because he was broke, and eventually made his money bootlegging and running with gangsters). Daisy refuses to stand up to her husband to Gatsby's liking, tragedy ensues, Daisy runs Myrtle down by accident and her husband, assuming it was Gatsby and that he'd been having the affair with Myrtle, shoots Gatsby dead.

Ain't no party like a Gatsby party, as they say, because a Gatsby party don't stop until two people are dead and everyone's disillusioned with the Jazz Age in general.

This is a Luhrmann film, which means it's fucking gorgeous. The sets are extravagant, the costumes are amazing, and the music is anachronistic, a mix of jazz and hip hop and dance and so forth. Much as in Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, Luhrmann doesn't let a little thing like accuracy get in the way of the story, and it works perfectly - the music conveys the feel and the ambiance in a way that's accessible.

The performances, likewise, are good; Maguire is really awesome at being a wide-eyed everyman, and conveying Carraway's "outsider" status even when he's in the middle of everything. Mulligan is perfect as Daisy, who's fucking useless as a human being (to me, any question of her being redeemable evaporates very early in the movie when Carraway asks about her daughter and she responds with this kind of "oh, yeah, I have one of those, let's go get drunk" thing). DiCaprio as the titular Gatsby manages to be cool and suave until Daisy shows up, at which point he starts to unravel and never quite comes together again. And Edgerton as Tom Buchanan also has his moments of freak-out, but stays controlled behind his money and privilege.

And, of course, Luhrmann uses his famous sweeping shots, making you feel like you're flying through large parts of the movie. It's a pretty heady experience, and I sort of wish I'd seen it in theaters.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next Up; The Island at the Top of the World