Movie Review - The Great Gatsby (2013)
At first, it feels over-the-top and right from the get-go. Luhrman introduces the character of Daisy Buchanan, the very pretty and glamorous object of desire, played by Carey Mulligan, in an extremely over-the-top manner with flowing white curtains that seem to have a mind of their own. They obscure her and the room partially, only revealing bits and pieces. Later, Luhrman introduces Jay Gatsby, the man who is in love with Daisy and who wants to be with her. Gatsby is played by Leonardo DiCaprio who gets his first frame set to a background-fanfare of confetti and fireworks.
The setting is mainly one of two palatial mansions on Long Island. One of which, the mansion belonging to Gatsby, reminded me of Alice of Wonderland. The whole thing just has this fantastical quality to it. Gatsby's lavish parties are filled with the most colorful characters from politicians to musicians to famous actresses, but, at any point, you get the impression that the Cheshire cat or the Mad Hatter could come rolling through. His parties are of course dominated with the spirit of the Jazz Age, its music and culture, but each looks as if they're elaborate Broadway musicals staged in his living room and foyer.
Gatsby is a man of mystery, one of his own design. Not only does he look like one but he lives his life as if he were a European prince. There is a regalness and statesman-quality about him. Yet, he's so personable and charming. However, there's a question of whether or not he's just as surreal as the environments he inhabits, including the version of Manhattan that he glides like a bullet into in his Rolls-Royce substitute, a yellow Duesenberg, or "Gold Bug" speedster.
Gatsby befriends his next door neighbor Nick Carraway, played by Tobey Maguire. He initially uses Nick as a bridge to get to Daisy who is Nick's cousin, but after a while a genuine friendship forms. Yet, Nick becomes suspicious that Gatsby's facade is just that, a superficial show. He also suspects that something shady is happening that Gatsby is keeping hidden. If Nick doesn't suspect that, Luhrman's direction certainly indicates such.
But, Nick doesn't mind being Gatsby's bridge. The only problem is the fact that Daisy is married to Tom Buchanan, a millionaire former polo player and racist, played by Joel Edgerton. Even before Tom's racism is made plain, Tom reveals himself to be having an adulterous affair with Myrtle, the wife of a lowly mechanic, played by Jason Cooke. Tom also reveals that like Gatsby he enjoys to party, only Tom's parties are veritable orgies, drunken debauchery that he has to keep secret from refined, civilized types like Daisy.
DiCaprio is brilliant. His performance here is beyond stellar. For example, Gatsby's first encounter with Daisy has the suave socialite revert back to an awkward and anxious, little boy, acting as if he's never seen a woman before. He's sweet and simply wants so badly for the other person to return his affections or to be impressed by him or simply to love him. DiCaprio portrays this to perfection.
At the same time, he's so funny and touching. It's similar to a moment in J. Edgar (2011) when DiCaprio's character first encounters Armie Hammer. That character too maintained a facade. Ironically, it's Gatsby and not J. Edgar who's referred to as the man in the pink suit.
It all builds to an amazing climax with the whole cast enclosed in a hotel room and arguing about love, money and social status, and everyone having to break down their facades. Gatsby and Tom are in a tug-of-war over Daisy, each one trying to deny the attachment Daisy has to the other. It's in this scene that Luhrman's artifice, his 3-D visuals, and soundtrack flourishes flitter away and he allows the actors to consume and control the scene. It turns out to be the most powerful moments in the movie.
I also prefer the way DiCaprio and Luhrman portray Gatsby's death rather than DiCaprio and Quentin Tarantino's portrayal of Calvin Candie's death in Django Unchained (2012). The ending was more fitting for the character. Luhrman, in my mind, gave it a more Sunset Blvd. (1950) touch.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking and brief language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 22 mins.