Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a mysterious man of immense wealth living in a posh neighborhood outside of New York City in the 1920’s. Numerous rumors swirl around Gatsby: He is an assassin of/for the Kaiser, he’s a killer, he’s a titan of business. Whatever is said about Gatsby, no one has any reliable information about his past or how he gained his wealth. Massive parties are thrown on the Gatsby estate every weekend attracting the movers and shakers of the era. Everyone from senators to movie stars are in attendance and everyone else wants to be there. Gatsby himself is never seen except in brief glimpses by his neighbor, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), as the lord of the manor looks out a window. Carraway is a failed writer who now sells securities on Wall Street and rents a small cottage next to Gatsby. Carraway’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) lives in a similarly massive house across the bay from Gatsby’s estate with her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) and their young daughter. Nick gets invited to one of Gatsby’s parties where he’s approached by Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki), a mutual friend of Gatsby and Nick’s cousin Daisy. Gatsby wants Nick to invite Daisy to tea at Nick’s cottage where Gatsby will be waiting to surprise her. Daisy and Gatsby were involved in the recent past. Gatsby went off to fight in World War I and promised he and Daisy would be married when he returned; but for some reason, the pair went their separate ways after the war. Daisy met and married Buchanan and Gatsby made his fortune as well as his murky reputation. Now Gatsby wants to steal Daisy away from the unfaithful Buchanan.
Director Baz Luhrmann, who gave us his version of “Romeo + Juliet” and the musical “Moulin Rouge” now takes a crack at the Great American Novel with “The Great Gatsby.” Luhrmann obviously has a great deal of affection for the material and the time period as he seems to have gone to great lengths to make the film look as accurate to the era as possible yet putting a decidedly fantastical spin on the visuals. The language of the film is filled with quaint sayings and flowery dialog to give us the impression that the wealthy characters are somehow from a different reality as the rest of us. It all adds up to a unique movie-going experience but not necessarily a good one.
The film seems to mostly be about people who have everything and yet still want more. With a few exceptions, no one in the movie is satisfied with their lot in life. The one thing that would make most of these people happy is always just out of their reach. The question is: Would acquiring that one last thing really make their lives any better? Would Gatsby stealing Daisy away from Buchanan really be what satisfies him? Would Buchanan, who seems to be trying to bed every woman in New York, be content with always being with a different lover every night while still having his wife and his regular mistress Myrtle (Isla Fisher)? The question is never really answered because the movie at its core is a tragedy that must leave everyone unsatisfied. That’s also how the film itself left me as the credits began to roll. For two hours, I’d watched the beautiful people of the 1920’s wile away the hours in their mansions and massive parties or driving around town in their custom-designed cars with their stylish clothes and all of them were dissatisfied with their lives. The idle rich have it so tough. Most of the characters just made me angry.
Perhaps I’m just jealous of their wealth and privilege and wish I could be in such a position; but all the whining about lost loves and the conniving to regain said love struck me as so self-centered and selfish. The entire story of “The Great Gatsby,” at least this version of it, revolves around people who have it better than the overwhelming majority of the Earth’s population yet can’t find happiness. The characters are so petty and spoiled I just wanted to reach into the screen and smack all of them. They all could use a healthy dose of reality. Maybe if there were a Dr. Phil of the 1920’s he would have straightened them out. As it is, the characters stumble through life, headed for an emotional brick wall that has deadly consequences and it’s all because having everything isn’t enough.
On the positive side, the overall production of “The Great Gatsby” is very stylish and lush. Costumes, props and sets all provide a feeling of luxury turned up to 11. No where is that more evident than in Gatsby’s home which seems to be like the Tardis on “Dr. Who:” Bigger on the inside than the outside. Each room is filled with paintings, sculptures, tapestries and furniture that seems to go on forever. The cars are brightly colored and seem to be so suped up that one could imagine the engines ripping themselves out of the cars and taking off on their own. The clothes are perfectly tailored and fit like a second skin. The ladies are all made up to look like angels except for the ones made to look like harlots. The film is a visual spectacle that rivals anything that’s come along in years. It’s just a shame the center of the film wasn’t as impressive as the outside of the package.
“The Great Gatsby” is rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language. There are a few brief moments of fighting. There’s nothing gory about any of that. We see a character struck by a car and the somewhat gory aftermath of that. There’s also a brief scene of a person shot in the back and another person committing suicide. Neither is very graphic or gory. The sexual content is brief and is mostly a suggestion of sex. There is a great deal of drinking and general partying throughout the film with gallons of alcohol being consumed. There is also a great deal of smoking shown. Foul language is very sparse.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “The Great Gatsby” between 1923 and 1925 and it was published in 1925. The novel was not considered very highly at the time and Fitzgerald believed himself to be a failure when he died in 1940. His body of work underwent a rediscovery after World War II and has sold well ever since. Perhaps people enjoy a look back to a time long gone and a lifestyle unknown. I think I would have preferred if director Baz Luhrmann had taken the story and moved it into modern times with modern language. Maybe that would have made the story of the super-rich and super-unhappy more relatable. Whatever the reason, “The Great Gatsby” was largely a waste of time for me. Maybe I’m too jaded or not much of a romantic? Maybe this movie just isn’t very good.
“The Great Gatsby” gets two golden guitars out of five.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” is the only film coming out this week, so the movie poll has been changed to reflect that. I want to know which of the Star Trek films has been your favorite or would you prefer the franchise just went away. Choose from these options:
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Star Trek: Generations
Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: Insurrection
Star Trek: Nemesis
Star Trek (2009)
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