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The Great Gatsby
LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Jay Gatsby in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama "THE GREAT GATSBY," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo: COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES

Movie Review: The Great Gatsby

Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan lead the cast of the ambitious retelling of “The Great Gatsby.” Jeaane Powell has her thoughts on the film

The Great Gatsby

LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Jay Gatsby in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “THE GREAT GATSBY,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo: COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES

“THE GREAT GATSBY”
Warner Bros. Pictures

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for “some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language”
Run Time: 142 minutes

Studio Synopsis:
From the uniquely imaginative mind of writer/producer/director Baz Luhrmann comes the new big screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. The filmmaker created his own distinctive visual interpretation of the classic story, bringing the period to life in a way that has never been seen before, in a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role.

“The Great Gatsby” follows would-be writer Nick Carraway as he leaves the Midwest and comes to New York City in the spring of 1922, an era of loosening morals, glittering jazz, bootleg kings, and sky-rocketing stocks. Chasing his own American Dream, Nick lands nextdoor to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby, and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy, and her philandering, blue-blooded husband, Tom Buchanan. It is thus that Nick is drawn into the captivating world of the super rich, their illusions, loves and deceits. As Nick bears witness, within and without of the world he inhabits, he pens a tale of impossible love, incorruptible dreams and high-octane tragedy, and holds a mirror to our ownmodern times and struggles.

Academy Award® nominee DiCaprio (“Django Unchained,” “Aviator”) plays Jay Gatsby, with Tobey Maguire starring as Nick Carraway; Oscar® nominee Carey Mulligan (“An Education”) and Joel Edgerton as Daisy and Tom Buchanan; Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke as Myrtle and George Wilson; and newcomer Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker. Indian film legend Amitabh Bachchan will play the role of Meyer Wolfsheim.

Oscar® nominee Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge!”) directed the film in 3D from a screenplay co-written with frequent collaborator Craig Pearce, based on Fitzgerald’s novel. Luhrmann produced, along with Catherine Martin, Academy Award® winner Douglas Wick (“Gladiator”), Lucy Fisher and Catherine Knapman. The executive producers are Academy Award® winner Barrie M. Osborne (“Lord of the Rings – Return of the King”), Shawn “JAY Z” Carter, and Bruce Berman.

Two-time Academy Award®-winning production and costume designer Catherine Martin (“Moulin Rouge!”) designed as well as produced. The editors are Matt Villa, Jason Ballantine and Jonathan Redmond, and the director of photography is Simon Duggan. The music is by Craig Armstrong, with Anton Monsted serving as executive music supervisor and co-producer.

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, in association with A&E Television, a Bazmark/Red Wagon Entertainment Production, a Film by Baz Luhrmann, “The Great Gatsby.” Opening May 10, 2013, the film will be distributed in 3D and 2D by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, and in select territories by Village Roadshow Pictures.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIewKn6EnAs’]
The Great Gatsby

(L-r) TOBEY MAGUIRE as Nick Carraway, LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Jay Gatsby, CAREY MULLIGAN as Daisy Buchanan and JOEL EDGERTON as Tom Buchanan. Photo: COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES

Jeanne’s Take:
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life inspired the love affair he wrote about in his 1925 novel, THE GREAT GATSBY. Fitzgerald left Princeton without graduating, enlisted in the army in 1917, and fell madly in love with a wild beauty named Zelda, who would not marry him until he was on the road to being rich and famous with the publication of THIS SIDE OF PARADISE in 1920. Fitzgerald lived a hedonistic life full of parties and drinking, later battling alcoholism while Zelda suffered a nervous breakdown. He published TENDER IS THE NIGHT in 1934, wrote for Hollywood when he needed money, and died of a heart attack in 1940.

This is a big picture – Leonard DiCaprio stars as Jay Gatsby, and music mogul Jay-Z is executive producer. Baz Luhrmann directed and worked on the screenplay with Craig Pearce. The film is being screened opening night of the Cannes Film Festival this month – a very big deal. It glitters and glams and takes us into the world of 3-D technology and the roaring twenties, but leaves you wanting a little more substance and a little less razzle-dazzle.

Director Baz Luhrmann is no stranger to this world-famous festival. Both his first film “Strictly Ballroom” and his spectacular “Moulin Rouge” with Nicole Kidman were screened at Cannes. And F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote THE GREAT GATSBY not far from Toulon.

In a recent interview, Luhrmann notes that “…when Fitzgerald was dying, he went to bookshops and bought copies of his own book, so that he had some sales, because it was very much forgotten, and no one cared. THE GREAT GATSBY recently became the No. 1 selling book in America on Amazon.”
Who is Gatsby? Answers to this question drive the film and the novel. A man of mystery, Gatsby appears in a great house across the lake from those with old money, and he dazzles ordinary folk during the roaring 1920s, while he waits for the opportunity to impress high society, and one person in particular.

Leonard diCaprio is dazzling as a World War I veteran of many talents intent on finding and reclaiming his lost love Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who did not wait for Gatsby to make his fortune and who married someone else during his absence. Mulligan and diCaprio have a wonderful chemistry, both in the dining room and in the bedroom. Director Luhrmann found the actress through a wide-ranging search not unlike the one launched by director Victor Fleming when casting the female lead in “Gone with the Wind.”

Showing subtlety, wit and vulnerability, DiCaprio becomes Fitzgerald’s Gatsby:

“He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself.”

In the 1974 film version of the novel, Robert Redford was Gatsby, Mia Farrow was Daisy and Bruce Dern was Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband. Composer and conductor Nelson Riddle handled music, Francis Ford Coppola wrote the screenplay and Jack Clayton directed. That version is true to the novel in a literal sense but not to the book’s essence; it seems flat.

The Great Gatsby

JOEL EDGERTON as Tom Buchanan. Photo: COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES

Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” gives us a deeper more multifaced Gatsby and a more seductive Daisy Buchanan. Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) especially comes across as the epitome of settled society with all its contradictions and arrogance, certain that the nouveau riche are not welcome and never can fit in. Narrator Nick Carraway is portrayed by Tobey Maguire; it is he who calls Gatsby “great.”

The music is a mashup, a creative mixing from the 1920s and contemporary sounds. Jay-Z produced the film’s soundtrack. Novelist Fitzgerald often wrote of the significance of popular music and is said to have coined the phrase, “the jazz age.” This also was the period of the literary and artistic flowering known as the Harlem Renaissance. And documentarian Ken Burns has put together a fascinating series on Jazz across America, the vital and complex musical sounds originating with Africans and African-Americans, which defined a generation and influenced all subsequent popular music.

What does not work well is the staging of the wild party scenes in Gatsby’s mansion during the period when he was making a name for himself as the mysterious new man in town. Staging in the film is “over the top,” as though someone thought the more dancing characters and bizarre interiors the merrier. The result is confusing to the eye and distracting from the story.

Lots of excitement about this movie, with excellent performances and a memorable soundtrack featuring hip-hop selections which highlight the post-war jitters gripping America and the world after 1918 – medieval empires toppling, new empires rising in the east and the west, Wall Street on fire, gangsters like the notorious Arnold Rothstein (Meyer Wolfsheim in the film) starting to dominate our economy, Americans thumbing their noses at a well-intentioned Constitutional amendment designed to curb the growing alcoholism in this country – oh, and the usual adultery and murder.

About Jeanne Powell

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Jeanne Powell is a poet and short story writer, who teaches in a summer program for teens. Her most recent books are “My Own Silence” and “Word Dancing,” available online and through booksellers. She also hosts spoken word events in San Francisco, and covers cultural happenings for online media.