GREAT GATSBY, THE (2013)
Shortly after World War I, in 1922, Midwesterner Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves to New York to learn bond trading. It's an era of loosening morals, sizzling jazz, crazy bootleggers and rising share prices. In early summer, Nick rents a house in Long Island, across the bay from his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her philandering husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), adjacent to the mansion owned by the mysterious, party-giving millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Drawn into the lavish world of his neighbour, Nick gets to see beneath the gloss into a world of indulgence, obsession and tragedy.
Review by Louise Keller:
As to be expected, Baz Luhrman's vision of The Great Gatsby is one of pure, glorious excess, ablaze with visual splendour, cinematic tricks coupled with Catherine Martin's dazzling production design - all in 3D. There's a pulsating hyper reality about the film in which everything is zinging: breathless, hyperactive, jumpy. Even letters from the words of the screenplay jump onscreen periodically, almost like a Fruit Loops commercial.
Visually, Gatsby is a spectacle of beauty with a myriad of beautiful people, exquisite settings, lavish locations and gorgeous costumes. There's a constant sense of motion, the cameras zoom, dolly and deliver all kinds of brilliance. Yet the cinematic tools form an artifice that act as a shield to the film's heart, instead of allowing us to be profoundly moved. I felt at arm's length most of the time, watching the proceedings like a fascinated voyeur trying to lap up every morsel of glamour, lest it rub off. A little like Tobey Maguire's outsider Nick Carraway, through whose eyes the story is told. It is through his eyes we are introduced to the dizzying, seductive world of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby and he, like us, is always a hanger-on, rather than being part of the scene. Maguire is rather a dull presence. (The role of Nick's psychiatrist is a good one for Jack Thompson.)
The most potent moment of blatant, raw emotion comes in the scene at New York's Plaza Hotel on a sultry summer's day after lunch, when it is a different kind of heat that sizzles as Leonardo DiCaprio (as Gatsby), in a moment of unadulterated fury, physically and emotionally confronts Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton in top form). DiCaprio ('always looks so cool') is a magnificent Gatsby with a solid presence and the man everyone wants to be, although Luhrmann's vision never allows DiCaprio the opportunity to create his own tempo. There is an element of fantasy about the entire proceeding which Luhrman has inked with his own distinctive stamp and style. And stylish, it certainly is.
As Daisy, Carey Mulligan is beautifully styled in Martin's lavish costumes and embodies world-weariness: a poor little rich girl with a cynical air to whom we are not especially drawn. The vital quality Daisy needs to possess (to allow us to understand why Gatsby is utterly besotted by her) is not apparent: to me, this is one of the film's flaws. Natural innocence and vulnerability (like Mia Farrow's portrayal in the 1974 version with Robert Redford), albeit with a brittle edge, is what I was hoping for in Daisy.
The Gatsby parties, resplendent in extravagance are bursting with joie de vivre, like a vibrant, ever-fizzing drink overflowing from a glass a couple of sizes too small. There are sequins, feathers and suspenders, fountains of champagne, balloons, fireworks, blow-up zebras in the swimming pool and multi-coloured confetti that rains on cue from the heavens. The 'beautiful people' guests include gangsters and governors, showgirls and pimps. Watch out for striking Elizabeth Debicki who makes a great impact as Jordan Baker. Her Jordan epitomizes the superficiality of the scene. Isla Fisher is excellent and aptly vulgar as Tom's mistress.
The love affair between Gatsby and Daisy is an illusion, devoid of passion. It is all about longing and the unattainable dream that never pierces through the latex of reality. What girl cannot relate to Fitzgerald's wonderful line: 'He looked at her in a way all girls want to be looked at'? But through the voice-over narration this is one of the things we are told about their relationship rather than sense it for ourselves. Our emotions are stunted as a consequence of our limited investment. Emotionally, I longed for more.
Leaving the cinema I felt saturated by the double edged sword of beauty and moral ugliness, wrapped in exquisite packaging. There's a sharp contrast between Gatsby's superficial world and that of the hopelessness symbolized by the miners in the Valley of Ash. Razzle dazzle is plentiful; emotional cred is wanting but Luhrman's Gatsby overall delivers a feast that is more than enough to satisfy and enthrall.
This is a film that is worthy of a second viewing; the second time around I absorbed more, appreciated more and relished in the nuances of which there are many.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Baz Luhrmann's theatrical DNA fuses with his acquired cinematic flair in this latest adaptation of the great American novel about not so great Americans in 1922. Having had a New York premiere and its attendant red carpet photos flashed around the world before opening the Festival de Cannes - and ditto from there, and after a lengthy delay in its release, the film arrives in Australia in the wake of the most extensive foreplay in movie release history. At least it feels like it and this sort of build up is to be avoided by the industry, I would suggest, because it only adds unsustainable expectations to what is already a burdened project, carrying so much baggage it would need a separate essay to unpack it. (Don't worry, I won't.)
The fact that this needs to be said as some sort of preface to the review is evidence of the weight of duty critics feel to put their responses in context.
It has been impossible to ignore what I called foreplay, but to be fair to the film, one has to try. So let's say it was with mixed feelings of anticipation and insecurity that I slipped on my 3D glasses and let the film in.
The depth of design creativity is immediately apparent, and not just the usual combo of perfectly thought-out, elaborate sets and drop dead costumes with mind-numbing detail. There are also touches of cinema that pay homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald's words, occasionally appearing, ghostlike, on the screen, forming and floating away as Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) speaks them, sometimes in voice over.
Of course, there is ever the excess: the Gatsby mansion and its lavish furnishings, its enormous scale, its limitless extravagance, juxtaposed with Carraway's modest and 'average' circumstances. Then there is the Luhrmann excess that exceeds even that of Jay Gatsby's, a melancholy, confused and tragic figure superbly portrayed by the endlessly talented Leo Di Caprio, who benefits from having rehearsed some of Gatsby's characteristics as the plantation owner Calvin Candie in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained recently.
It is in the last act of Gatsby that Di Caprio delivers the emotional payoff that has been building throughout, in small, subtle displays of masterful craftsmanship.
Some people had fretted over the casting of Carey Mulligan as the fragile Daisy, but for my liking Mulligan pulls it off, stretching and bending Daisy's vulnerability and selfishness into a deceptive sweetness.
Joel Edgerton is no longer full of promise as an actor: he is delivering on that promise in every role, and he positively soars here as the muscly, wealthy, bigoted and philandering Tom, Daisy's husband.
Tobey Maguire's Carraway turns from interested observer to disillusioned judge as the fantasy crumbles in front of his eyes. It's a difficult, almost wimpy role, but he rescues it by his utter belief in the character. Fitzgerald would be pleased.
Elizabeth Debicki makes a tall, striking, enigmatic and memorable Jordan Baker, the woman who manages to keep her balance amidst the swaying ship that Gatsby is driving.
A scattering of Australian acting royalty appear in minor support roles, the largest being Jack Thompson as the doctor who encourages Carraway to write this all down in the aftermath, and also Isla Fisher as Tom's ill fated mistress. Not all the mini-cameos work, but they are too small and fleeting to trip the film.
Sometimes the over-staged scenes weaken the film's dramatic impact, where we feel shovelling miners silhouetted against the sky may be a tad forced, for example, and a melodramatic mood often hangs over the film like those designer clouds we see so often above Long Island.
The road from New York to Long Island - along which the fabulous cars roar back and forth with fateful and deadly energy - is another piece of theatre a la Baz, a metaphor for all the poverty and the working class who are passed by on the way to an ever bigger party by the old money rich as well as the nuveau.
Ironically, excess also threatens to overwhelm the essence of this story about an excess of both positive and negative aspects of the American character. Gatsby's unethical commercial excess contrasts with his innocent and excessive, uncontrollable dream of love, which he tries to realise in extravagant fashion. He tempts fate with both these - and fate is easily tempted.
Luhrmann and his design/vision soulmate Catherine Martin package all this in oversize gift boxes all superbly ribboned and bowed, but we have to accept that the presents inside are just as valuable and meaningful. What we have to realise is that Baz Luhrmann's cinematic signature is always, was always and will always be one of visual exaggeration as a way of commenting on the themes he is managing and the stories he is telling.
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EDITOR MATT VILLA
WHOSE GATSBY IS IT?
GREAT GATSBY, THE (2013) (M)
CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire, Callan McAuliffe, Amitabh Bachchan, Gemma Ward, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Jack Thompson, Vince Colosimo, Jacek Koman, Max Cullen, Richard Carter, Barry Otto, Heather Mitchell, Bill Young
PRODUCER: Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Lucy Fisher, Catherine Knapman, Douglas Wick
DIRECTOR: Baz Luhrmann
SCRIPT: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce (novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Simon Duggan
EDITOR: Matt Villa, Jason Ballantine, Jonathan Redmond
MUSIC: Craig Armstrong
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Catherine Martin (also costumes)
RUNNING TIME: 143 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 30, 2013