5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Great Gatsby

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

Two things before I get to my 5 Things

No. 1 – Full disclosure: I saw The Great Gatsby two weeks ago today.  It has taken me this long to devote an hour (if it were only) to writing this piece because I was less than inspired by the movie (admittedly there were several things that were successful) and I did not feel a compelling reason to provide analysis within timeframe that fell under TGG‘s relevant time in theaters (when people are most likely to see it).  I have committed (really only to myself) to write about every movie I see in theaters, so the obligation still exists, I just feel this particular movie experience gave me an open invitation to procrastinate.

No. 2 – I have read the great (an understatement) The Great Gatsby novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald (ironically for the first time only quite recently) and did not expect that this iteration of this tale would in any way live up to the novel.  I can appreciate the differences between the two mediums of literature and film and understand that quality replication is never the easiest of tasks.  This is a major factor in why I have chosen not to read the Game of Thrones novels in fear that it will negatively influence my experience of watching the incredible HBO series.  A movie or television show can be a viable and wonderful version of a story originally presented in a book and often trying to equate the two yields disappointment.  My feelings about this movie have not been too colored by this dichotomy.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

THE GREAT GATSBY

1) The Great Gatsby is directed by Baz Luhrmann.

2) Movies directed by Baz Luhrmann (of which The Great Gatsby is one) often adhere to the following trend: The first fifteen to twenty minutes are an exercise in constant cutting, a series of quick shots (albeit visually lavish) that blink the viewer into a state of over stimulation and nausea.  He creates a world where pace, movement, and headaches are the accepted norm.  Then, it seems like Baz Luhrmann gets a little tired.  His editing technique slows down (as if he became bored of it all), he throws in some orchestral pop songs (usually under the musical guidance of Craig Armstrong) and relies on romanticism and a color palette featuring every crayola option.  By the time we get to this tepidly paced second act, our sensory arousal has already been peaked and we now get weighed down by the balladic heaviness of it all.  There are some beautiful segments (the first time Romeo and Juliet meet, The Elephant Love Medley from Moulin Rouge), but we are left unsure of what movie we are actually watching (it may not be for everyone, Baz, but why can’t you just follow through on your concept for an entire movie?).  Unfortunately, The Great Gatsby follows this Baz Luhrmann trajectory and the result is a little bit of a colorful, hot mess.

3) The climactic confrontation scene in the Manhattan hotel is a phenomenal piece of theater (if only it more closely resembled another part of the movie!) and would fit well in the best Broadway play.  Joel Edgerton finally created some justification for what his “actor to watch out for” press status has been all about.  He gives a phenomenal performance of controlled rage, picking apart the suddenly vulnerable Leo’s Gatsby.  I will likely never see this entire movie again (I have done my time), but I look forward to repeated viewings of this scene.

4) Actors in The Great Gatsby have more chemistry with the camera than with each other.  Leo DiCaprio has never looked better in this post-youthful charm stage of his career, yet his character, outside of his ability to host a part or two and flip hair off his brow, seems less than great.  Toby Maguire toes his own baby face line as Nick Carraway, the narrator and beleaguered guide, but seems at arms length from each of his co-stars and from the audience.  Carey Mulligan face glistens with technicolor majesty, yet her performance is the grey of a black and white filtered lens.  Luhrmann’s big bright, roarin’ world never feels quite real (but for the aforementioned hotel scene) when the fantasy is stripped away.

5) Once again, The Great Gatsby is a movie directed by Baz Luhrmann. Like several of his movies that have come before it, it has a promising and unique vision that doesn’t last as long as it takes to get used to it. If Baz commits fully, whether you like it or not, it is certainly a distinctive voice.  Unfortunately, he dives deep into Gatsby’s outdoor pool for only a few moments before quickly returning to the surface for some air. The audience either wants a longer swim or would prefer not have gotten wet in the first place.

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