Sunday, May 19, 2013

Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby

"The Great Catsby"
     If Busby Berkeley had directed color dramas, they might have looked like The Great Gatsby as envisioned by Baz Luhrmann.  He has the guts to mix music from the ‘20s with
contemporary Hip-Hop, which lends a thrilling edge.  He could have gone even further with it.  The extras, whether party

The Berleley-esque Production Numbers
guests or footmen, look like they are about to be in a kick line. Visually, it is spectacular thanks to Catherine Martin’s brilliant art direction, but there are backgrounds that are computer generated and others that are miniatures.  When the
The Great Gatsby Production Design
characters drive from Long Island to New York City past the ash piles, they look to be animated, rather than live.  It adds a fairytale note to the proceedings that also turn into something out of the Brothers Grimm when one of the characters is killed in a hit and run accident.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a consistent clarity of actual locations.  

Maguire, DiCaprio, Mulligan, and Edgerton
     Luhrmann over-emphasizes that this is based on a written work by showing words and making a huge deal out of a framing device that questions Nick Carraway’s sanity as he tries to write the book.  Luhrmann finds a visual equivalent for Fitzgerald’s symbolism in his motif of the green dock light and in the sense of a New York building itself before our eyes; therefore, making this so ‘literary’ is superfluous.  There’s no framing device concerning Nick in Fitzgerald because it isn’t necessary and Nick is the most balanced character emotionally so it makes little sense that he would lose it over the Buchanans’ selfish and lethal behavior.  He’s from their class – this whole story is about socio-economic class as it operates in the supposed U.S. meritocracy – so, though he’s disgusted, he isn’t shocked.  Tobey Maguire looks goofy-dorky as Nick.  I didn’t believe he had the sense or gravitas to appreciate Gatsby’s romantic idealism in the way Sam Waterston did in the 1974 version.  

The Cast at the Buchanan Estate
     The rest of the casting is right on, except that the women seem like the right ages and the men seem about five to ten years too old.  The way around that for me was to remember that World War I aged that generation more than any
Leonardo DiCaprio
succeeding one.  Leonardo DiCaprio nails Gatsby’s self-made arriviste attitude and his desperation.  He’s never remote or enigmatic the way Robert Redford was; DiCaprio’s emotions are on his sleeve even as he tries and fails to hide them.  Joel Edgerton was shy and unsure of himself (both the character and his acting) in Kinky Boots, but his quiet exhaustion as Jessica Chastain’s interrogation mentor in Zero Dark Thirty was the glue that held the first hour of that masterpiece together and he’s DiCaprio’s equal as Tom Buchanan.  He captures Tom’s entitlement, indolence, and actual love for Daisy.  With him in the role, Daisy’s choice and final actions make emotional as well as plot sense.

Carey Mulligan
     Carey Mulligan pulls off the very difficult role of Daisy, who has to be Gatsby’s Holy Grail, but turns out to be unworthy of his quest.  Mulligan was a revelation in An Education and very strong in Shame.  Both she and Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan sound like former Louisville debs relocated to the East coast.  Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher have small parts as the Wilsons, but they make them count. Adelaide Clemons is a hoot as the flirty younger sister of Myrtle Wilson.  In only one scene, she ends up as the only performer that connects with Maguire.

1920s Times Square
     Fitzgerald is tough to film because every reader has a take on him.  In reviewing Robert Altman’s Thieves Like Us, Pauline Kael thought he’d captured the essence of Faulkner while adapting a novel by Edward Anderson.  The film adaptations of Faulkner’s work haven’t been successful.  She wondered if Fitzgerald’s essence could be similarly captured while adapting another writer.  I think Robert Towne’s screenplays for Chinatown and Shampoo displayed Fitzgerald’s glamour, character self-creation, and romantic loss.  Luhrmann captures the ‘20s when western culture was turned on its head after World War I far more expansively than Jack Clayton did.  The book was published in 1925 and the movie is nominally set in 1922, though there are visual and music details that are from all over the decade.  On the whole, this version mostly works, though it’s too long.

No comments: