May 27, 2013

[Movies] The Great Gatsby (2013)

First things first - I have to admit that I've never read the book. As much as The Great Gatsby is quite the popular work of fiction, for one reason or another I haven't found the time to read it. Then again, I'm not exactly a particular fan of the US Prohibition Era. Go figure.

But this particular movie adaptation got a lot of positive press leading up to the movie and one has to concede that Baz Luhrmann has a flair for movies of a certain flavor - if anyone is to capture the Roaring Twenties, then it would have to be this man given his work on movies like Moulin Rouge.

But this is not a musical (although having Luhrmann attached to this movie can lead some to make that conclusion) it's at its core a straight drama. And in this sense we haven't seen Luhrmann really deal with something this serious - and no, I don't think Strictly Ballroom counts in this regard. He does have a flair for musical numbers and big performances. But this movie had quite an amount of story to cover - something that he does manage to do well enough.

Synopsis: The Great Gatsby is the 2013 drama based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name. It was directed by Baz Luhrmann, who also co-wrote the screenplay together with Craig Pearce.

The movie is told from the perspective of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who is now committed to an insane asylum because of depression and alcoholism. He tells his doctor about a man named Gatsby, whom he describes as one of the most hopeful people that he's ever met. His doctor then suggests that Nick write down these thoughts of his in order to get his thoughts together - and thus the movie unfolds.

We go back to 1922 when Nick first moves to New York to become a bond salesman. He moves into a simple home right next the rather imposing mansion of the mysterious Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) - a man that barely any one has seen. His life is surrounded by various rumors - something he learns when he visits his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who lives in a mansion right across the bay. She lives together with her husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). In time he learns more of Tom's particular side-interests, more about who Gatsby is and what truly makes this city run.

Now the movie features an interesting array of talent - but what else is to be expected from the clout that Lurhmann generally commands these days. And I can't find fault in most of the casting choices for this movie - it would not have been the same with other folks involved in the key roles.

While I'm not a big fan of Leonardi DiCaprio, he certainly grew into the role over time. I appreciated his ability to convey complex emotions pretty much on queue - it was brilliant watching him shift from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other. Carey Mulligan is the darling actress as always - it's no secret that my partner and I love her. She has a signature look that manages to convey emotional pain without words or even tears. She has rather amazing presence in all of her scenes, it's just phenomenal.

Another thing that I truly loved about this movie involves the wonderful costumes. I can't speak to their accuracy, but they certainly looked gorgeous. Sure we can  respect the fundamental nature of any suit - that never really changes. But the costumes for the women in all their elaborate glory is where this movie truly shines. I don't know which outfit I could consider to be my favorite - but a number of key costumes certainly come to mind.

The movie does not have Luhrmann's usual large production numbers - and no, you can't consider Gatsby's elaborate's parties to fall under this category. They are interesting and highly elaborate sequences that aimed to capture the spirit of the Roaring Twenties but they were not big dance numbers. And one is not better than the other - just different aspects of what we are used to seeing from Luhrmann's works.

And this is where things falter to some extent. I've always seen Luhrmann to be a bit of a showman - he is brilliant when he puts together big musical numbers, big productions that seem almost surreal in their grandeur. But that only really covers aspects in the first half or maybe just the first third of the movie. There rest of it lacks that level of pomp and sheer ridiculousness. And this is where he falters a bit - not to the point of making the movie bad, but certainly having its share of awkward moments.

Overall, the movie was still a good one but not Luhrmann's best work. I'm sure he learned a lot in the experience of making this movie given the need to edit down his often larger-than-life manner of telling stories. And no, I don't regret there not being any big performance numbers. It's still a great story to tell after all and I am eager to read the book soon enough.

The Great Gatsby is a unique look at the 1920's Prohibition Era - at the excesses of the time and the passions that drove people. It's a most interesting movie that merits at least 4 magic camera shots that Luhrmann seems to be obsessed with out of a possible 5.

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