The Great Gatsby (2013) Review
by Robert Hass
Though it has bountiful visual flair and is stylishly ambitious, The Great Gatsby's story gets lost amidst it's dazzling, yet overproduced spectacle and ultimately ends up being a prime example of style over substance.
The story: If you haven't been through 11th grade English, the plot is based upon the iconic novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and that has also been analyzed and dissected to smithereens. It tells the tragic tale of a writer, his complex influence, his pouty lover, her snarky husband, and of course, a green light. No but we follow the story from the eyes of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) in the Roaring Twenties as he moves to Long Island and begins the follow and befriend a rich and mysterious man named Jay Gatsby (Leo DiCaprio), who 1. Throws parties and 2. falls in the middle of a deadly love triangle which may or may not have tragic results. The novel offers up a plethora of social commentary on the American Dream and young pride, but do the story and allegories translate to the big screen? That's a loaded question old sport.
The good: The Great Gatsby rockets off as a visually spectacular, sometimes overwhelmingly energetic, and stylishly entertaining piece of eye-candy. We start off with a bang, and the pacing is quick and exciting. The visual design is glossily crafted and everything, most notably the parties, are just a pleasure to watch. The cinematography is always lively, and seems to allow the viewer to enter the film's exuberant setting by gliding and sometimes whimsically traveling around the set pieces. The costumes are fantastic; each’s color is saturated to their greatest, and the flashy intricacies of them look fantastic and add an important element of art deco style to the film. The sets range from marvelously detailed to almost cartoony looking, obviously green screened, but for some reason it does fit with the style of the rest of the film. The 3D doesn't add as much depth as it should and becomes dizzying in some tightly edited, ecstatically shot scenes, but it still is passable. And now for the soundtrack; many are conflicted about the soundtrack due to its juxtaposition between, let's say, Gershwin and...um...Jay Z. I personally didn't mind it and thought that the anachronistic songs oddly fit well with Luhrmann's style even if many were underused throughout.
The acting is a bit of a mixed bag, but no one is terrible. Leo isn't captivating, but he still manages to add a level of like-ability to Gatsby, even if he doesn't seem completely invested in the role. Maguire is just fine as Carraway but just kind of blandly follows and narrates. The best is Edgerton who nicely creates both a slimy and intriguing character to counter Gatsby. Honorable mention goes to Elizabeth DeBicki who doesn't have much to do, but puts forth her best effort. And now for Daisy, Carey Mulligan isn't served the best justice due to the supposedly purposefully annoying nature of her character, but still she ends up just helplessly pouting and moping around the sets like a hormonal 16 year old. Also to be fair, this isn't an actor’s movie, but rather a director’s movie, so it makes sense that some of the actors may seem only decent. Speaking of directors, Luhrmann altogether creates an interesting experiment. It's admirably ambitious and daring, and I partially admire him for his choices, however per usual, he does overproduce ALOT of the film and almost seems to become too distracted with himself and the film's giddy style. By doing this he adds more color, but also takes away the vibrancy of the story. He tries to adapt much of the symbolism and themes from the book, but after a while they become too repetitive, and don't have anything to say about themselves.
The bad: The films second half does have a deflated sense of energy, and also becomes tonally and normatively inconsistent. Some scenes and character interactions don't mix very well with others and there are slower sequences that feed sharply into fast-paced ones and the result isn't always entirely cohesive. Even while I haven't read the book, I still understand the importance and significance of the story, but feel like the film was aiming for recreating more of a mood that the book and characters evoke rather then focusing more of the narrative. I also disliked the ending, and thought that it was too uncompromising because in the book, it may have had a much more literarily significant representation, but many of those words become lost in translation to the silver screen and the result is mixed. Also the overproduced sequences and pizzazz of the film do become a tad bit annoying and hard to fully absorb.
My take: So, no matter what you think, it is safe to say that this film will be and is very polarizing. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either. The style didn't completely win me over, but it did keep my attention through its long running time, and I was slightly invested in some of the characters, especially in one earlier sequence in the film between Gatsby and Daisy, which I did adore. You probably should see it for the visual spectacle and experience, but I don't think you will get much else.
DISCLAIMER: I have not read The Great Gatsby, but will soon old sport.
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The goal for this blog is for me to deliver more direct movie summaries that skip more of the fluff and deliver the goods. The story, the good, the bad, and my overall take on it. For those of you who just want to know if you should see it or not, read the ratings and headlines of the films. Click read more if you want to see the details about the reviews.
My name is Robert, but friends call me Vern. I'm a proud cinefile (not as creepy as it sounds...) I write, direct and edit movies. When I'm not doing that, I'm watching movies -- as many as I can -- and reviewing them here for you. I've found that my tastes are unpredictable; conventional to bizarre, formulaic to abstract, old-school to ahead of the curve. I've seen enough to have perspective but am still young enough to need a lift to the theater. Let me know what you think.