May 15, 2013

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Movies Must Seee: Great Gatsby (2013)


Gatsby in 3D with music by Jay-Z? Luckily Leo’s Great!

The Great Gatsby is an essay in excess. So who better than Baz Luhrmann to put F Scott Fitzgerald’s Roaring Twenties classic on screen, using all the firepower of 21st-century film-making?
The famously over-the-top director of 2001 musical Moulin Rouge, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, does not disappoint.
It’s not just that his Gatsby is in eye-popping 3D and has a movie score produced by Jay-Z, the world’s most famous rapper.

Bright young things: Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan
It features spectacular parties, dazzling costumes, and, at times, there are so many coloured lights strung around the Gatsby estate that it resembles an enormous Christmas tree. You can certainly see where the $100million (£65million) dollar budget went.
No one wants to watch a page-by-page re-creation of Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel unless there’s a hook to draw them in, and Luhrmann’s production is certainly a visual feast. But does it work as a movie?
To a great extent, yes, and far more so than the 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Even so, it’s going to divide opinion right down the middle.

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To some, Fitzgerald’s work is a literary landmark that you tamper with at your peril. Luhrmann has done some controversial things, particularly with the structure of the narrative. It didn’t bother me, but a few of my American friends were livid.
There are some moments early on in the movie that I would question, too, and it’s a little slow to get going. But Luhrmann has the fundamentals right, not least with the performances by the principal characters.
If the four-way story involving Jay Gatsby, narrator Nick Carraway, social supernova Daisy Buchanan and her fractious but fabulously wealthy husband Tom didn’t click, then all would be lost. But Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby is superb – the best I’ve seen him on screen.

Tobey Maguire’s Carraway is introduced to us in the first frame as an alcoholic being treated in an institution
Gatsby doesn’t want you to see him as a brute, but he is. He knew Daisy before Tom Buchanan did and he wants her back. ‘Tell him you never loved him,’ Gatsby tells Daisy, but to no avail.
Carey Mulligan plays the object of Gatsby’s obsessive love but her delicate performance signals that Daisy has no intention of giving up everything she’s got to run away with him. She’s happy to frolic and play but she ain’t giving it all away. Mulligan looks very much the golden girl she’s meant to portray. She captures Daisy’s carefree insouciance well, too, as well as her sense of entitlement. I loved the moment when she turns up at Carraway’s shack and her chauffeur places a rug on the muddy path so her shoes don’t get dirty.
Tobey Maguire’s Carraway is the author/narrator. He’s introduced to us in the first frame as an alcoholic being treated in an institution. His physician urges him to write about what ails him, in the hope it may cure him. It’s a clumsy way of getting into the film but Maguire’s effortless acting helps.

Directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton the film is an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book of the same name
Once they get going, Luhrmann’s depiction of the revelry at Gatsby’s estate are as sumptuous, glistening and enormous as Fitzgerald described. But I cared little for them – although I did like the observation made by sportswoman Jordan Baker, played beautifully by Elizabeth Debicki, that ‘large parties are so intimate, small ones aren’t any good’.
No, the test for me was whether Luhrmann would be able to scale it down to the intimate core of the story, and let us see the brutal and cruel truth of what these idle rich really represent. (I exclude Carraway because he’s the only character in the story who cares a jot about anything.) Here, Luhrmann largely succeeds, bringing out the carelessness at the heart of Tom and Daisy, and conveying the essential message that riches rob us of our humanity. That message resonates as much today as it did in Fitzgerald’s day.
I suspect Luhrmann had to lure a younger audience in with 3D effects, but it is used well; it’s never too intrusive. The music from the likes of US pop star, flame-haired Brit Florence + The Machine, former Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry, Scot Emeli Sande and wife of Jay-Z, Beyonce, won’t be to all tastes, but will no doubt help the soundtrack soar to the top of the charts as happened with Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet, another Luhrmann film.
The Great Gatsby opens in India on Friday, and so far the reviews have been good-to-mixed. After a whopping European premiere at the Cannes Film Festival next Wednesday night.
I can see why the Cannes programmers picked it. What better home for a meditation on glamour? But as I say, it’s going to be divisive and controversial.
And, ‘old sport’ – as Gatsby would say – that’s all to the good.

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