Monday, June 26, 2017

"The Great Gatsby" (2013) -- Initial Thoughts


As you probably know, I'm leading a read-along of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald over on my book blog right now.  Until this month, the only movie version I'd ever seen was the 1949 one that stars Alan Ladd (you can read my review of that one here).  I decided that I'd like to see as many of the other movie versions as I could while I'm reading the book, and I started with this one.

Overall, I did enjoy this movie.  I was a little put off at first by the framing device of having Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) at a sanatorium being treated for alcoholism and depression, and writing out this story as a form of therapy.  Wasn't sure I liked that for a while, but in the end I think it worked quite well because it provided a reason for Nick to be telling this story.  Books don't always need that the way movies do.

Baz Luhrmann is always such an interesting director.  I love his Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Australia (2008).  Like a lot of what he did for Romeo + Juliet (1996).  Here, I felt like he tapped really well into the hedonistic angles of the story while also showing the decaying underbelly of society.  I already knew he was great at melding modern music with period settings, and I thought overall the music really helped bring out the similarities between the anything-goes spirit of the 1920s and today.  In some ways, it made the story even more unsettling, which I appreciated.


The cast overall was very strong.  I am not really a fan of Leonardi DiCaprio, but he definitely can act very well when he wants to, and he clearly wanted to for this piece.  You're not going to believe this, but I found his Gatsby equally as sympathetic as Alan Ladd's.  I really wanted to jump in and rescue him.  His was my favorite performance here, by far.


I hadn't realized that Elizabeth Debicki was in this -- I absolutely love her as the villainess in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), and it was so cool to see her pop up as Jordan Baker!  I thought she was very effective in the role, capturing Jordan's swagger and cool charm.  I'd like to see her in more things.


Joel Edgerton made a really good Tom Buchanan, I thought.  Tom needs to be physically intimidating, but also sophisticated and confident.  Hard mix to pull off, but I very much believed Edgerton in the role.  I even felt a but sympathetic toward him a couple of times, which I had not expected.

As for the rest, Carey Mulligan was acceptable as Daisy Buchanan.  I never felt she was quite alluring enough, but she captured Daisy's shallow selfishness quite well.  Tobey Maguire was fine as Nick Carraway -- nothing special going on, but I didn't wish he'd been recast or anything.

Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke as Myrtle and George Wilson were kind of forgettable for me.  They're the two that I really feel were much stronger in the 1949 version -- I cared so much about George Wilson in that one, and here I couldn't have picked him out of a lineup if I tried.  So in that sense, I think they were kind of a fail.

Overall, it's a pretty faithful rendition -- maybe kind of show-off-y in its faithfulness, actually.  "Look at how much of the book's dialog we can cram in!  And all the symbolism!"  But I definitely would like to see this version again some time.  I could have done without the scene where someone gets Nick high on alcohol and an unspecified pill at the party in the NYC apartment, though -- I'll likely fast-forward through that part next time.

Is this movie family-friendly?  Not really, no.  There's some violence, several instances of implied sexual activity, much of the plot centers on Tom Buchanan having a mistress, and there's some scattered bad language.  Also, the weird scene where Nick gets kind of high is very unnecessary and not in the book.  Not for kids or younger teens, for sure.

20 comments:

  1. I'll confess that I don't really like the story of Gatsby that much (I have yet to read the novel, with it in mind as a satire) but I really, really liked this movie. A lot. I'm not sure if the director managed to make the story appeal to me, or if something changed in me since I saw the older version, but... it's very glamorous and rich and sad, and I thought just overall, gorgeously done.

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    1. Charity, objectively I don't like story, but it fascinates me, and I feel weirdly protective toward Gatsby -- I always want to jump into the story and rescue him.

      I never feel like the book is a satire, though I know it's considered to be one. It feels more like a sad, wistful look at how ultimately unfulfilling and empty life was for people in the Jazz Age. Everyone in Gatsby is searching for meaning... but none of them realize that God is the only one who can fill that desperate emptiness in their lives.

      By "the older version" do you mean the Robert Redford one? Cuz I started watching that last night -- got through about 40 minutes and was NOT impressed. I'll watch the rest, though, as it might improve?

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    2. I think my first introduction to the story was the rather atrocious A&E version from the 90's (?), and I was too young to appreciate the lack of meaning as the entire purpose of the story; as an older and wiser soul now, it stands out more. I did conclude, at the time, that it was a story without hope, though.

      Based on the recent film, Gatsby strikes me as a little sad. He idealizes Daisy when she really is not worthy of his worship but also makes unreasonable demands from her, considering her position. He does not understand that even with all his money, society still does not consider them equals.

      (When asked his opinion of Fitzgerald, my dad said: a man in search of God, who does not understand why life offers him nothing but emptiness.)

      YES. I tried to make it through the Redford version but quit halfway through, I was SO BORED.

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    3. Charity, I haven't seen that one yet (but since I didn't like Toby Stephens at all as Mr. Rochester, I'm kind of intrigued to see him play such a different character). I think that "lack of meaning" is what really turned me off the first time I read the book in my mid-20s.

      Gatsby strikes me as sad too. I want to fix everything for him.

      (I quite agree with your dad.)

      I got those 40 minutes into the Redford version... and have not gotten any farther. My movie time is very limited right now cuz of editing my book, but I'm just thinking I'm going to return it to the library unfinished and watch the rest another time.

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  2. I don't really like Tobey Maguire and I way prefer Sam Waterston's Nick. There's just something about Maguire that bugs me, although I didn't mind him so much as Spiderman. I think "The Good German" influenced me ...

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    1. Janet, I don't really care about Tobey Maguire one way or the other, but I thought he was fine as Nick. I started watching the Redford version last night, and yeeeeeeeeeah... the pacing is NOT impressing me. Too soon to tell what I think of most of the characterizations, though. Waterston is okay so far, but I still like Macdonald Carey best.

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    2. I need to see the "original" version. Tom likes the Redford version, which is the only reason I saw that one.

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    3. Janet, if you mean the 1949 version with Alan Ladd, yessssss, it's so good. You can watch a little bit of it here on YouTube -- it's from my favorite chapter, when Gatsby's waiting to meet Daisy again at Nick's. It goes through Daisy and Gatsby seeing each other, and then if you click to excerpt 2, it plays out the rest of the scene. If you want a taste of it!

      There was a silent version in 1926 with William Powell as George Wilson (!!!) that has been lost, alas. I keep hoping a print gets discovered some day. I mean, can you imagine?!? A movie version made just a couple years after the book was written! You can watch the trailer on YouTube here, at least.

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  3. Huh, Tobey Maguire . . . I loved him very, very much in "Seabiscuit." I've never seen him in anything else, though.

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    1. Jessica, he's pretty good here. Sometimes I get annoyed by him, but he didn't annoy me here.

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  4. I think what I love so much about Moulin Rouge transfers over to this: the historical setting paired with modern music, the hysteria, the stylization. I feel like Baz Luhrmann likes to have style *and* substance, which he tends to do rather well. I really should see Australia one of these days!

    I like the cast here - I enjoy Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire in these roles, although they have never been my favorites. The Man in the Iron Mask and Spider-Man were two of my favorite movies as a kid, though, so I have a some nostalgia for them. Hmm...now that I think of it, those movies totally started my love of period dramas and superheroes. :-)

    Like you, I was really impressed with Joel Edgerton. I think he's one of the most underrated actors right now, because he can pull sympathy from you even when his character is unlikeable or hard to categorize (The Gift comes to mind - I was both sorry for him and creeped out).

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    1. Claire, YES! That's part of what I love about A Knight's Tale too. Just so you know, Australia doesn't meld modern music to its 1940s setting that way, but I do not care.

      I think the only other thing I've seen Joel Edgerton in are the Star Wars prequels, where I found his Owen Lars pretty sympathetic. So far, he's the only Tom Buchanan I believed!

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  5. A Knight's Tale has been on my to-watch list for AGES. I recently became a Rufus Sewell fan (I just finished The Man in the High Castle, and he's excellent in it) and I love Heath Ledger. I may head off to the library tonight in search of it! And I may pick up Australia too. I could never resist a Hugh Jackman movie!

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    1. Claire, oh oh oh, A Knight's Tale is so delicious! I saw it in the theater with my friends back when I was in college and we loved it so much, we got the poster for our dorm room. Wonderfully fun movie. First thing I ever saw Rufus Sewell in -- I quite dig him too! Especially in that, Hercules, Amazing Grace, and Middlemarch.

      I cannot resist Hugh Jackman. Pretty much at all. Amazing guy. I just rewatched Australia earlier this year, and I still like it tons!

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    2. I agree about The Man in the High Castle. I showed the first season to two girlfriends, who proclaimed at the start that they could never, ever have a Nazi be their favorite character. By the end, they were praying nothing happened to Rufus.

      He's also quite marvelous in the first half of the first season of "Victoria" (even my mother adored him there) and he did a little breaking of my heart in "Tristan + Isolde" as Lord Mark.

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    3. Charity and Claire, I watched the first ep or two of The Man from High Castle, and it has languished on my watchlist ever since. One day!

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  6. The 1970s and newer "Great Gatsby" movies both had some interesting art direction and costuming, and both were deeply flawed, alas!

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    1. John, yeah, this definitely wasn't perfect, but it wasn't dreadful either. Watchable, at least!

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  7. Because of the story (as usual, I've not read the book), I never got "into" this film or appreciated its message. I mean, sure it is gorgeous in terms of production, but it's just not the "right" kind of film for me. I think the lack of anything "good" makes it hard for me to connect with. Sad movies are something I have appreciated and even liked in the past, but this story just seems like such a depressing spiral because of choices, and therefore, it makes it impossible to enjoy (for me). It feels destructive and simply, sad. But then, I'm glad I don't have to judge what makes a classic and what doesn't! :)

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    1. Rissi, to me, all the glitz and prettiness is there to underscore how appearances are deceiving. Everyone "looks" like they're having a good time and "says" they're having a good time... but they're not. It's all hollow.

      I went into this more in my final post about the book, but I think a lot of what draws me to this movie its is cautionary message on how important it is for us to recognize what is real and what can never be real. If we get so wrapped up in how we imagine life should be or could be, we run the risk of jeopardizing the people around us, our own lives even, in pursuit of something that isn't even real.

      I've also realized that I only like a particular kind of tragedy -- it has to feel inevitable to me. Like Hamlet -- the bad things will happen no matter what the heroes do.

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Agree or disagree? That is the question...

(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)