The Great Gatsby Review: Baz the Great and Powerful

You all have before you a stirring indictment of the modern American education system; a high school graduate who has never read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby.  MV5BMTkxNTk1ODcxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDI1OTMzOQ@@._V1_SX214_Now, this shouldn’t be so much of a negative reflection on my AP English teachers as it is an issue with the limitations on how much reading you can assign a child before they graduate.  Had I dedicated some of my own free time to educating myself to the likes of Lord of the Flies or The Grapes of Wrath I might have been able to flesh out my literary awareness, but all of that went downhill once I discovered how awesome movies were.  After all, how can you beat a medium of storytelling that lets you experience character development and eat chicken wings at the same time?  In any case, perhaps you can think of this ignorance of mine as a unique opportunity to hear from someone who can’t just brush off the film with the typical manta of someone who’s read the source material; “The book was soooo much better”.  Because of this, I will be focusing almost entirely on the film itself during this review and NOT on the comparison with the text that it is pulled from.  Luhrman fans will be more than pleased with the director’s latest exercise in opulence, but for many of the rest of you it will be hard to feel any sort of real connection with the flashy, highly-stylized melodrama that dominates The Great Gatsby.

The Plot: 6/10

A Midwestern war veteran finds himself drawn to the past and lifestyle of his millionaire neighbor.

I know this is my ignorance talking, but isn’t the primary focus of The Great Gatsby supposed to be materialism?  If I were to base my entire understanding of the book’s imagesmessage on Luhrman’s interpretation, I would have guessed that The Great Gatsby is first and foremost a romance.  As a result, I would have been left wondering just what is so “classic” about that romance as a lot of it feels like a slightly elevated version of your typical Soap Opera story arc.  The movie focuses too much on the scandal of it all and too little on the more interesting elements of Gatsby’s corruption and rise to power, the latter of which is hinted at in so many scenes yet is never fully confronted in a dramatic way.  All of this comes together to make the movie’s two and a half hour run time feel far longer than it actually is.

The Writing: 7/10

The sad thing is, it’s easy to tell from the more transparent scenes of the movie why The 130513_CBOX_gatsbysanitorium.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeGreat Gatsby is considered such a great American novel.  Nick’s voice-overs (which I am told are largely made up of direct quotations from the text) are beautifully written and often give the film a sort of poignancy that the rest of it never seems able to measure up to.    I can’t tell if the characters here are restrained by their respective parts in the book or elevated by them, but whatever the cause the effect is that people on screen just didn’t feel very real.

THE GREAT GATSBYThe worst by far is Daisy, who is given an incredibly central role to the story itself only to spend all of it being tossed around back and forth between the male characters of the film like some sort of doll.  If the message of the film is supposed to be that people use material goods to substitute for the feelings that truly drive the emptiness inside them, Daisy’s behavior would almost seem like a ringing endorsement of materialism.

The Acting: 7/10

Whenever the movie really shines, it is a result of one of two things; Luhrman’s flares for visual extravagance or the performances of the leading cast.  Despite my frustrations with the_great_gatsby_a_lhis character’s fixation on Daisy, I fully acknowledge how great of a job DiCaprio did with the titular role.  He takes the sort of raw passion we’ve seen from many of his roles in various shapes and sizes and adds in some of the Howard Hughes-esque eccentricities that he perfected in The Aviator, and I can’t think of many other people who would have been better for the part.  Similarly, my issues with Daisy’s character don’t blind me to the fact that Mulligan’s performance is just as admirable as DiCaprio’s.  If anything, her trademark innocent sweetness makes her a bit too likable at times and adds to the jarring nature of her developments in the later part of the film.

Now I have never been and likely never will be a fan of Tobey Maguire, and I fully great-gatsby-movie-image-tobey-maguire-leonardo-dicaprioanticipated his presence being the weakest aspect of the movie.  For the majority of the movie he’s just as annoying and dorky as ever.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by how well he fit into the dead-eyed future version of Nick, retelling the entire story a psychiatrist at a mental institution.  It seems that for Maguire, the less emotions the better.

As a final note in the acting category, I’d like to tip my hat to Joel Edgerton, who overcomes his slimy role and delivers one of the most surprisingly touching moments of the film in a moment of grief in the third act.  Bravo, sir.

The Style: 6/10

When it comes down to it, the biggest determinant of whether you like this movie or not is whether or not you like Baz Luhrman.  There are few people who great-gatsby-2013-sp-500x250divide critics quite like Mr. Luhrman does, and The Great Gatsby has done nothing to change my position on him. To be fair, there were a lot of things the director did here that I enjoyed and the production value is clearly visible throughout the film.  The thing is, my issues with Luhrman stem far more from his preference for melodrama over real drama, and no amount of gorgeous costuming or artful scene changing is enough to make up for that.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the movie’s soundtrack.  I actually liked almost all of the music that was used in the film, but the way that music was used just didn’t work for Jay-Gatsbys-House-in-The-Great-Gatsby-2013me.  In a lot of ways, the 1920′s are a perfect setting for Luhrman’s showmanship in all of their gaudy, disproportionate-wealth-filled glory.  When you take all of that and set it to Jay-Z, it just takes you out of the scene in a very unnecessary way.  Some of the best uses of music in the film come from George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and I can’t help but feel like a similar musical backdrop for the rest of the movie would have been less distracting.

The Verdict: 6.5/10 – Perfectly Adequate

+ Sure to please Luhrman’s fan base

+ Great performances from DiCaprio, Mulligan and Edgerton

-  An exasperating amount of focus on scandal and melodrama

- The modernized soundtrack is more distracting than anything

Critical Consensus:

IMDb:  7.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes:  48%

Metacritic: 55/100

Other Reviews: 

CinemaWolf: B+

The Cinematic Katzenjammer: 7.6/10

The Cinema Monster: 7/10

The Code is Zeek: 3.5/5

FlixChatter: 3.5/5

Fogs’ Movie Reviews: B-

Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 6/10

The Focused Filmographer: 3/5

Black Sheep Reviews: 3/5

Cynicritics: C-

Fast Film Reviews: 2/5

Average: 6.4/10 – Perfectly Adequate

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About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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27 Responses to The Great Gatsby Review: Baz the Great and Powerful

  1. Niejan says:

    Good review. I’m almost done reading the novel, so I will be watching this one very soon.

  2. keith7198 says:

    I’ll be seeing this in about 3 hours. It’s one I’ve really been anxious about but the reviews have me concerned for sure.

    • r361n4 says:

      Looking forward to your review, my guess is that it’ll be pretty close to what you expect it to be based on your previous opinions on Baz, but we’ll see

  3. CMrok93 says:

    Very, very pretty movie that always gives you something to look at, but not much to take in, in terms of story. Problem with that is the simple fact that the novel was so good, it’s a wonder just where the message got screwed-up. Good review Andy.

    • r361n4 says:

      Same to you Dan, I’m really starting to want to read the novel because I can see why it’s such a classic, but you’re right in that this feels very pretty and very hollow

  4. Gene says:

    Terrific review. I don’t normally read the books that eventually make it to the big screen, and this was no exception, so I appreciate the angle you took on the review and spared us all the typical “well, the book was just more meaningful” line. Thanks!

  5. Courtney says:

    Okay, my review for this is coming in the next day or so, and I’m probably the only blogger I know who REALLY liked it. I’ve read the book a couple times, and I’ve seen the 1974 film a couple times. That being said…I wanted to watch this adaptation without grilling it for what it lacked from the novel. And I loved it, but my opinion is unpopular. I can definitely understand a lot of your dislikes, particularly your qualms with the character of Daisy. Mulligan’s Daisy is actually a much more tolerable Daisy than in the novel and previous film. She’s super flimsy, shallow character in the novel, but her excessive greed isn’t portrayed as much on the screen…it may have given us little more depth and pity for Gatsby since he was fawning over such a terrible person haha

  6. Nick Powell says:

    I’m surprised you gave the style only a 6. I thought that was the best part of the film. I also thought the acting, like you mention, is worthy of the praise it’s been getting but I don’t think Mulligan did the film any justice. It may be because Daisy is such a bitch of a character that you have a lot of trouble getting behind her and her motives. I really liked it but also recognize how severely flawed the film is. I gave it a 7.6 but I’m thinking of knocking it down a few tenths of a point after continued thought.

    • r361n4 says:

      Yeah, I was a bit torn on that one because I could tell that people who like his style would love that part of the movie. I guess it does deserve a bit of a higher score on merit alone, but I can’t get over the fact that I just don’t really care for Luhrman’s style. I think Movie Bob from The Escapist said it best when it comes to the man’s focus on anachronism, the link’s here if you’re curious.

      Anyways I’ve got your score up there now, for some reason I’m not getting email updates for your site even though I’ve signed up multiple times.

  7. ruth says:

    Thanks for the linkage, Andy. Ahah, well I don’t know that Baz is so Great and Powerful :D I actually like his anachronistic style in Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet but he seems to have gone off the rails w/ this one that it nearly drowns the story for me. I’m afraid I don’t find Mulligan all that memorable here though I think she’s massively talented. I think Leo & Tobey were good and Edgerton is a very charismatic actor and perhaps more of a chameleon than Leo.

    • r361n4 says:

      Lol, the “Great and powerful” was more in terms of how much his fans seem to revere him. The word “Genius” is tossed around quite a bit

      Anyways at least we can agree that everyone is more of a chameleon than Maguire, lol. As for Mulligan, I’ve also heard a wide range of different opinions about her. I think she was probably the most restrained by the book itself seeing as her character is so inherently unlikable.

  8. Mark Hobin says:

    With the exception of Cynicritics and Fast Film Reviews, all of the blogs you featured gave The Great Gatsby a recommendation. That’s kind of surprising given the general critical consensus out there.

    Glad you enjoyed it. I liked your review!!

    • r361n4 says:

      It seemed like a lot of people gave it a recommendation but just barely, I haven’t found nearly as many people as I expected who are passionately opinionated in either direction. Most of it is just pretty indifferent

  9. Great review, man. It bums me out to see this just didn’t deliver on its potential. Still very curious to see it (opens here May 31st). I’m a fan of Luhrmann so maybe I’ll enjoy this after all. I recently read the book and it features some amazing writing but at the same time, it doesn’t delve deep enough into Gatsby or his obsession over Daisy.

  10. The acting and the costume designs were the best part of this film for me. Baz goes a little bananas with all the crazy camera tricks and directorial flourishes. Don’t even get me started on the distracting soundtrack.

  11. sati says:

    I’ll probably catch it on DVD for the performances, I’m not a big fan of movies that mostly rely on visual side.

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  13. Shrey Khetarpal says:

    I quite liked the film. I have read the book and I think Luhrmann was able to tell the story well.

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