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Great Scott, Not So Great Baz - A review of The Great Gatsby
Summary: As visually stunning as this movie is, it just doesn’t hold up emotionally to the quality of the source material. Terrific acting just can’t balance that shortcoming.
F. Scott Fitzgerald can be the bane of many high school students. The Great Gatsby was, and probably still is, required reading and the cliff notes, as detailed as they can make them, didn’t always get you through the multiple guess tests or give the inspiration to write compellingly convincing essays.
Well, now kids can draw inspiration from this movie. The film is certainly true to the novel, but it lacks the emotional punch that this story should eviscerate from its captivated audience.
I suspect that there will be readers out there who will criticize me for making that statement. Yes, I’m a male viewer watching a decidedly romantic story set in a historical milieu. Let me just say, though, that the best romances and historical tragedies will always touch my heart when they are well acted and directed.
I expected much more, though, from Baz Luhrmann, the man who previously helmed the updating of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. It felt like everything about this picture was done to attract a younger audience to the original tale, but it fails to emotionally draw in the readers who are probably more familiar with the traditional masterpiece.
This is Gatsby for the post-MTV generation. Even the musical soundtrack, assembled by modern musical mastermind Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter, fails to emotionally carry the story.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as the titular millionaire brings off just the right air of mystery and the standoffishness of a man uncomfortable in almost any situation who tries to evoke a false adventurous spirit that may or may not be his true history. Tobey McGuire, fresh off a stint as superhero teen Spiderman and an icon for younger audiences, is compelling as Nick Carraway, the casual observer/narrator who watches those involved barreling towards unavoidable tragedy.
Less compelling is Joel Edgerton who plays Tom Buchanen, the husband of Gatsby’s love interest Daisy, played by the stunningly beautiful young actress Carey Mulligan. She is not only a gifted actress, but the soul of this production. Without her in this role, this would be just another contemporary wannabe instant classic without the backbone necessary to warrant the reproduction of the tale.
This is the type of movie, though, that should almost certainly win for Art Direction at next year’s Academy Awards. Luhrmann has constructed a world that virtually explodes off the screen with unbridled debauchery and visceral intensity. It evokes the spirit if not the letter of Fitzgerald’s work.
Is the movie good? Yes. Is it a classic like the story on which this film is based? Only time will tell. I give The Great Gatsby 3 out of 5 stars.