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The Great Gatsby

Went to see the new Baz Luhrmann version of THE GREAT GATSBY last night.

The film is doing good business, but getting decidedly mixed reviews from the critics. Some love it, some are cool, a few are tearing it to pieces. And the sides don't necessarily line up with those who liked or didn't like the source material, the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Count me with those who loved it. I think this is a great film. AND a great and faithful adaptation of the novel, which is not necessarily the same thing. I've never seen the two oldest versions of GATSBY, but the Luhrmann films stands head and shoulders above the beautiful but curiously empty Robert Redford/ Mia Farrow version.

Visually, this GATSBY is just amazing, something even its harshest critics have been forced to allow. (Though some of them do not like that). I don't think it would be correct to say that it brings 1920s New York to life, since I doubt that 1920s NYC was ever so saturated with color, life, sound. This is a dreamscape, everything bigger, brighter, noisier, drenched in life and color... but that's perfectly appropriate here, since the entire narrative is couched as Nick Carraway looking back on a formative time in his life, and dreams are always more intense than reality. Golden ages are never as golden as we remember them.

I'm a word guy first and foremost, though, and it is the words that sing for me here. There are a lot of Fitzgerald's own words in this GATSBY, in the dialogue, in the voiceovers, in the frame, and that's more than okay with me. There's never been a more lyrical writer than F. Scott and that lyricism is captured here.

The performances were also terrific. Carrie Mulligan's Daisy made me understand Gatsby's obsessions in a way that the Mia Farrow's Daisy never did; I would be have been obsessed as well. I will confess, I had my doubts about Leonardo diCaprio going on. The central flaw with the Robert Redford GATSBY is Redford himself. A fine actor, certainly, but far too handsome, graceful, self-assured, and in command of every scene to be convincing as Jay Gatsby. Robert Redford is one of the golden people, and Jay Gatsby is desperately TRYING to be one of the golden people, to aspire to everything that comes naturally to Redford, and that distinction is crucial... and ultimately as one of the things that sank the Redford film. I was afraid the Luhrmann version would suffer the same way. I've liked Leonardo diCaprio ever since I first saw him in THE QUICK AND THE DEAD (a guilty favorite) as The Kid, but in that, in TITANIC, and in all his major roles, he's comes across as cocky, brash, self-assured, handsome, with a swagger to him that suggests that he knows who he is and is unafflicted by doubts or fears... all of which is the antithesis of Gatsby.

He wasn't here. This is a new, mature Leonardo, as I have never seen himself before, and he does a great turn here. The Kid and Jack and all of those vanish, and there's only Gatsby... trying so hard, dreaming so fiercely.

I loved it.

And at the end, it broke my heart, the way the novel always does ever time I reread it, the way it did the first time I read it, back in the early 70s.

Now I will admit, I am prejudiced. This is one of my favorite books. This is a book that has vast personal meaning to me, one that has affected me deeply. The romantic in me identifies strongly with Jay Gatsby (and sometimes with Nick Carraway). I know what it is to chase after that green light. So I will not pretend to be disinterested.

But I love the book, I love the story, and I loved this movie. Go see it.

"... And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."



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May. 15th, 2013 05:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this amazing post.
May. 15th, 2013 05:58 pm (UTC)
I haven't gotten to see a non-kids' movie in the theater in several years! This is one I'm interested in seeing, though, if I can find the time. The last film by Baz Luhrman I recall seeing was Moulin Rouge, which is one of my favorite movies. That one also had some pretty mixed reviews, from what I recall.
May. 15th, 2013 06:20 pm (UTC)
Excellent review. Couldn't agree with every point more.
May. 15th, 2013 06:24 pm (UTC)
Mental or visual images first?
I've been watching HBO first and reading the books second so that I can avoid the film messing up the images in my head I would form reading the books. Reading second also means I pick up on the subtleties that the series might not get across.

Being in the UK, the book has managed to pass me by. Would you recommend doing the same with GG?

Edited at 2013-05-15 06:25 pm (UTC)
May. 17th, 2013 07:55 am (UTC)
The Great Gatsby was published in 1925 and has been on school syllabuses in the UK for decades. I don't think that being in the UK has any relevance to the book passing you by.
Re: Mental or visual images first? - mizkit - May. 17th, 2013 08:12 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 15th, 2013 06:30 pm (UTC)
I've been resistant to see this movie, partially due to poor adaptations in the past of one of my favorite books, and partially due to adaptations generally being but a pale imitation of the source prose. Every time I reread the book, which happens every couple of years, it's a journey anew as new life experiences color my appreciation for each of the various characters.
Jason Beatty
May. 15th, 2013 06:33 pm (UTC)
I see a bit of Jay Gatsby in Littlefinger. No?
May. 16th, 2013 06:40 am (UTC)
Re: Gatsby
Same here. I wish show-Littlefinger was more Gatsby and less Iago, as that's the way he always is in my head while reading the book.
May. 15th, 2013 06:39 pm (UTC)
wish more than ever that it could out sooner here in mexico :'(
but this was a great review. redford's film is my favourite out of all the `previous adaptations, but you are spot on in that he is already one of the "golden people." i wasn't sure of dicaprio at first but after some clips i've changed my mind. i'll trust your word that carrie mulligan is good in it, cause mia's face and voice are more in line with what i pictured daisy to look/sound like, but it's a tough call for me as to whom is a better actress between those two (:
May. 15th, 2013 06:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks for weighing in Ser Martin! :)
I look forward to seeing it. I think the thing that has some critics in a fury is the soundtrack and the idea that it overshadows very seriously disturbing content.
May. 15th, 2013 07:10 pm (UTC)
Try Catch Me If You Can
Thanks for the great review!

If you haven't seen it already, I recommend Catch Me If You Can, an underrated film, in which DiCaprio manages to show both extreme self-confidence and the fear and vulnerability which lie beneath it.
May. 15th, 2013 07:38 pm (UTC)
It's so funny to see my exact thoughts on the movie written out by someone as amazing as you, sir! I'm glad you liked it as much as I did. ^.^
May. 15th, 2013 08:07 pm (UTC)
Agreed on all counts!! Did you see it in 3-D? I went in wishing they'd had a 2-D theatre available, but I came out very glad to have seen the 3-D -- the effect it had on the green light, in particular, moved me.

Edited at 2013-05-15 08:07 pm (UTC)
Steven Townshend
May. 15th, 2013 08:46 pm (UTC)
In movie reviews I look for critics with sensibilities similar to my own (often hard to find). So this review has been helpful for me, since reviews for Gatsby have run the gamut. Now I'm going to check it out.
May. 15th, 2013 09:18 pm (UTC)
George, one of the things I like about you (aside from your Ice and Fire and Dunk and Egg stories, of course) is that you have great taste: football (well, I do like the Giants...), food, books.... I'm a bit skeptical about this one. I'll see it, but probably not at the cinema.
May. 15th, 2013 09:18 pm (UTC)
Haven't read the book, or seen any of the previous films (I was 8 or 9 when Redford's came out), but I loved the trailer for Luhrmann's TGG when I saw it in the cinema, however I was discouraged by the reviews. Yours has made my mind up to see it though, thank you.
May. 15th, 2013 09:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the panegyric I'd love to hear from you. That is great and timely
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George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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