When I was in middle/high school (mid 1970s – yes, I’m old) there were several books we were required to read, among them “The Old Man and The Sea,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Great Gatsby.” Though they had all been made into films, because there was no home video I actually had to read them in order to write a report. Not sure if it’s still required reading but a new version of “The Great Gatsby” has hit the multiplex.
1929. We meet Mr. Nick Carraway, currently under the care of a local sanitarium. His diagnosis: Morbidly Alcoholic. While speaking with his doctor Nick begins talking of the most influential person he’s ever known. A man he refers to as Gatsby. Gatsby?
Dazzlingly eye-popping, “The Great Gatsby” is everything you’d expect from the director of “Romeo and Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge.” Beautiful people in glamorous settings with an eclectic selection of music that runs the gamut of classical to Jay-Z, all presented in numerous jump-cuts and, this time around, in 3D. Allow me to explain further, old sport.
Getting into the bond market as the country goes Dow-Jones crazy, Nick (Maguire) finds residence in the abandoned guest house next to an incredible mansion. Nick learns that his neighbor is a mysterious man named Gatsby (DiCaprio). Gatsby? (sorry. For some reason every time someone mentions Gatsby’s name for the first time someone else has to say in questioningly, which to me sounds like a perfect condition for a drinking game). Across the water is the even more opulent Buchanan estate, where Nick’s cousin, Daisy (Mulligan), now resides having married the devilishly handsome Tom (Joel Edgerton). At lunch they all gossip about Gatsby. Among the rumors: he’s a prince…a German spy…he’s killed someone. What isn’t discussed is that, five years ago, Gatsby fell in love with Daisy after a chance meeting, though he knew he could never marry her due to his financial circumstances. Now rich, and learning from Nick that he and Daisy are related, Gatsby invites the both of them to his home, which is normally filled each weekend with hundreds of people partying the night away. Add to this a background of cheating spouses, inebriation and jealousy and you’ve got yourself one heck of a ride.
The glamour on screen is matched by strong performances from the main cast. DiCaprio is sly and devious, spending most of his time on screen planting the seeds of a story he’s desperate to have known and shared. Maguire is fine as Nick. He spends some of his time narrating the film as the words of Fitzgerald are recited to us by Nick. They also appear on-screen, utilizing the 3D process that sadly doesn’t deliver what being in the hands of Baz Lurhmann promises. There is one brilliant scene here, one which features an elaborate fireworks display over the water cut to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” This one scene hints at the movie that could have been. Maybe it’s the source material or the early 20th Century setting. Either way, a lot of the magic is merely eye candy to a story that often plays like an overproduced episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” If it’s glamour you want you’ve come to the right place. If it’s story, stick to the book.
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