Luhrmann's 'Gatsby' proves quite satisfactory
|By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut||
May 9, 2013
WAUKESHA - The most
remarkable aspect of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great
Gatsby” is the quality of its writing.
combine with indelible poetic passages. Symbols such as the green light at
the end of Daisy Buchanan’s dock and a billboard boasting oversized eyes
and spectacles are among the most celebrated in American literature.
But how does one
translate poetry and symbolism into cinema? In the case of Australian
director Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby,” quite satisfactorily.
Rouge,” “Romeo + Juliet”) co-wrote the “Gatsby” screenplay, in
addition to directing the film, and his script has acceptable facsimiles
of most of the novel’s best lines. (A movie screenwriter, like a
director, needs to affix his own stamp to an adaptation, after all.) About
the only major book line obviously missing is the one in which Jay Gatsby
compares Daisy’s voice to the clinking of coins. As for symbolism, the
green light is shown repeatedly, as it should be, and the oculist’s
billboard - positioned above yet another key symbol, the hellish Valley of
Ashes - is seen sufficiently, as well.
“Gatsby” is the
tale of a rich man’s quest to recapture lost love. That basic plot is as
old as storytelling, but Fitzgerald’s book offers a hero with murky
ethics and a heroine with a wedding ring. The story is laid in the 1920s,
that intriguing era of Prohibition and organized crime, automobile and
airplane emergence, postwar prosperity, liberalization and a burgeoning
interest in sports.
Literary types hold
that Fitzgerald’s masterpiece depicts the ‘20s incomparably; touching
upon everything mentioned in the preceding sentence, Luhrmann’s movie
makes an estimable attempt to follow suit (although the decadence and
prodigality of its party scenes had rather numbed this viewer by film’s
stars as Gatsby. Like his cohorts who play narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey
Maguire) and Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), DiCaprio is a few years older
than his character is supposed to be. DiCaprio’s Gatsby affects an
Eastern accent (perhaps to disguise his agrarian North Dakota roots),
which makes him sound at times like a poor man’s Bobby Kennedy.
Accent aside, DiCaprio
successfully negotiates a gamut of emotions and pairs up credibly with
actress Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan. It is harder to like and
empathize with this Gatsby, though, than it was with Robert Redford, who
played the role with more restraint and warmth - and less naivete - in
Jack Clayton’s 1974 movie.
resemblance to author Fitzgerald is probably purposeful, an interesting
touch. Maguire is a good fit for Nick, although his moral reservation
about facilitating a Gatsby-Daisy assignation and his sometime party
animal persona just aren’t in keeping with Fitzgerald’s Carraway.
As Tom, Daisy’s
husband and Nick’s Yale schoolmate, Australian actor Edgerton does a
good deal of scowling and growling - appropriate, as it turns out, in
painting the arrogant bully Fitzgerald took pains to create. Thanks to
Edgerton, the viewer will fully understand Fitzgerald’s statement that
“there were men at New Haven who had hated (Tom’s) guts.”
Mulligan, a British
actress, is completely believable as an American. Watching her, one can
almost forget Mia Farrow’s brilliant performance as Daisy two
generations ago. The very attractive Mulligan, still in her 20s, is a more
subdued, more schoolgirlish and ultimately more relatable Daisy. Come to
think of it, maybe the line about Daisy’s voice and money would’ve
spoiled all that.
(Elizabeth Debicki), Carraway’s love interest in the novel, is
downplayed in Luhrmann’s film. A head or more taller than Nick, she’s
little more to him than an acquaintance - and little more than window
dressing to the production. Debicki certainly could’ve been given more
to do. Her character is the subject of a laugh-evoking line in a script
that understandably doesn’t have too many such lines. Jordan, says Nick,
was “the most frightening person I’d ever seen, but I enjoyed looking
Luhrmann, whose wife,
Catherine Martin, served “Gatsby” in her customary role as production
designer, has given us a 3-D movie complete with jump cuts and subtitles,
camera panning and zooming, balletic character movements and inventively
incongruous music. The format may be cutting-edge, but the film is not
difficult to follow - at least for a viewer who’s read the book.
well exceeds the two-hour mark. Shaving, say, 20 minutes of party footage
would’ve only strengthened the overall product.
‘The Great Gatsby’
DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Running time: 143
Release date: Friday