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Movie Review: ‘The Great Gatsby’ glitters

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Leonardo DiCaprio leads a young, talented cast in this new interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel about the tragic Jay Gatsby. Director Baz Luhrmann teams up again with DiCaprio (the first time in Luhrmann’s reboot of Romeo + Juliet.)  British actress Carey Mulligan portrays Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s lost love, who is now married to Tom, a wealthy philanderer played by Joel Edgerton. Photo: nytimes.com

Daisy’s cousin Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is new to the world of finance and rents a modest bungalow.  Carraway first hears the name Gatsby from Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki), Daisy’s longtime friend. When he heads to the tony East Egg to visit his cousin, Carraway also finds out that he is living next to the mysterious millionaire. Gatsby invites Carraway to one of his soirees, and quickly befriends the young man.

The first half of the movie unfolds much like one of Gatsby’s parties – we follow Nick as he is introduced to a dazzling view of 1920s excess. Gatsby is famous in New York for the extravagant parties he throws at his immense estate on West Egg. A suffocating crowd is shown rushing to enjoy Gatsby’s champagne. As they swap stories about his origins, their host remains a cipher.

Once Gatsby is reunited with Daisy, the pace slows down – perhaps it’s because he stopped throwing those fantastic raves. The scenes with Daisy, Nick and Gatsby hanging out at the mansion were intimate, and contrasted with the earlier bacchanal. The tone of the film then becomes darker, as the gilded persona Gatsby has created becomes tarnished by reality.

Director Luhrmann takes some creative detours with his telling of the story. Nick remains the narrator of the tale, but Luhrmann comes up with a different context for why he’s recalling his time with Gatsby. I also think Luhrmann emphasizes the love story. Furthermore, he tweaked the ending – but I don’t want to provide any spoilers.


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The use of modern music is another Luhrmann device, it was effective when partnered with dancing flappers, although I found the rap songs distracting on the soundtrack. They took me out of the place and time more than the other songs. I was a bit surprised he didn’t use more jazz music. There are new songs from Lana Del Rey, Florence and the Machine and a few covers- with Jack White’s rendition of U2’s Love is Blindness being a standout (you can listen to it HERE). The performances of the musicians and dancers showcase the beautiful costumes and set design. Although Luhrmann has created other visually stunning movies, he actually shows a pretty high degree of restraint with this production.


As for the actors’ performances, DiCaprio hasn’t looked this charming and light hearted since Titanic. He is convincing as the poor kid who pulled himself up through ambition and hopefulness, reaching amazing heights in his quest to win back his love. Maguire captures Nick’s disillusionment as he begins to see how the wealthier operate. His camaraderie with Gatsby anchors the film and is probably enriched by the actors’ real life friendship.

Mulligan creates a sympathetic Daisy, who like many women of the era, is trapped in a marriage and has to ignore her husband’s infidelity. While she genuinely appears to care for Gatsby, no woman could live up to his idealized memory.  Edgerton’s Tom seems much more astute than the character in the novel and Daisy does not resist him.

I first read this book as a sophomore in high school, and I find that I uncover more with each reading. Ambition, love, regret - Fitzgerald packs an enormous amount of emotion into his thin volume, and this production of The Great Gatsby embraces it all. 

 

Contact Diane Cooney at dcooney@philly2philly.com

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Photo: nytimes.com