Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Great Gatsby

The problem with Writer/Director Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is that, like its title character, it tries too hard.

 When you bring to the screen what is reputed to be one of the great American novels, you open yourself to comparison, not only to those who have tried to do the same thing, but to those who have done other classics, as well. 

Sorry to say that, though I’ve been a big fan of Luhrmann’s previous work, The Great Gatsby falls short in comparisons.
What Luhrmann does best are big song and dance numbers and, here, the party scenes are fabulous.  Unfortunately, there are not enough of them.  Sad to say, but the story gets in the way of the fun.  And, it’s because the story is not told that well.  Why?  It’s a function of the script and, surprisingly, of the acting.

The tale is told in flashback by Gatsby’s friend Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who is in rehab after Gatsby’s death.  Though Carraway turns 30 during the story, Maguire plays him more like someone just out of his teens.  I began to long for the more mature Joseph Cotten of Citizen Kane and The Third Man; someone I could believe just lost a mentor/friend. 

But Maguire and his way of telling the story wasn’t the only problem.  Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby at 32 also seemed unbelievably naïve to relationships for one, who, in only a few years, dealt with mobsters and politicians to build an empire of incredible wealth. 

My mind wandered to thinking how the young Orson Welles or Humphrey Bogart would have brought more believability to the role.  And, I’ve always liked DiCaprio!  What’s more, I never think about other actors doing a role I’m watching! 

 Even Cary Mulligan’s Daisy Buchanan began to drift from her fine depiction of a weak-willed ditz to being a little too level-headed and I began to who would have handled her final decision more believably. 

Only Elizabeth Debicki in her role as the vampy Jordan Baker her character. 

So, what was going wrong?   I had to believe it was Luhrmann’s directing decision to make the characters stylized ‘20s caricatures instead of real people in a heavy drama. 

And, perhaps the decision to shoot digitally was meant to give it that TV soap opera feel.

Not the choices I would have made.  But, with those assumptions and out of deference, I sat back and enjoyed the visual feast of the Gatsby-lite version of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, which I give a 3 out of 5.

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