Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Great Gatsby

Sometimes the critical consensus on a film can be a detriment to my enjoyment of that film, either by calling attention to its weaker aspects or building up expectations too high to possibly be satisfied. In the case of The Great Gatsby, however, the opposite seems to be the case. Because the general opinion on this film has been slightly negative, I reset my expectations and probably enjoyed the movie more as a result. Like almost everyone, I remember reading this book in high school and have a fairly vivid recollection of the more memorable plot points. While not everything I say about this film will be positive, I think that those who have read the book will be (mostly) glad to see the way it's been translated to the big screen in this adaptation.

Gatsby is a mysterious figure in a gargantuan house that everyone knows for the enormous parties he hosts on a regular basis. His neighbor, a struggling bond salesman named Nick, is particularly fascinated by the cryptic multimillionaire, even garnering an unprecedented "invitation" to one of his famous parties. As Nick gets to know Gatsby further, however, he realizes the wealthy young man isn't all he appears. For one thing, his motivation for throwing such lavish parties was simply to attract the attention of a former lover who lived across the bay. Knowing that Daisy and Nick are cousins, Gatsby recruits him to set up a meeting between the estranged couple. As their lives become entwined, Gatsby's past and emotional attachments come back to wreak havoc on his plans for greatness.

This movie is beautifully filmed and the costumes are extravagantly designed. However, the 1920's setting makes the filmmakers' musical choices somewhat confusing. While I was prepared for the unusual melding of period details and contemporary style, it was still jarring to hear Jay-Z (who also served as the executive producer of the film's soundtrack) interwoven with early 20th century characters and sets. Those who are fans of the genre might not mind the mash-up, but I honestly found it pandering toward younger audiences who may not enjoy the period details of the 1920's.

Regardless of the film's unfortunate musical influences, the performances in this movie are really what make it enjoyable. Joel Edgerton does a great job of portraying Daisy's deplorable and unfaithful husband, while Tobey Maguire's wondrous and loyal Nick is a breath of fresh air from the other morally ambiguous cast members. Despite the greatness of the other characters, the clear stand out is Leonardo DiCaprio as the titular Gatsby. His range of emotions is really impressive to see, and I can't imagine anyone playing the part better than he does in this film.

I didn't see this film in 3D (not being a huge fan of the format), but the visual style definitely looks like it might benefit those who do appreciate the depth of field. The CGI looked a little hokey in certain scenes, but overall the visuals in this movie were great. The story itself is kind of depressing, but the relationships in this film are very intricate and warrant further exploration even after the movie ends. The Great Gatsby isn't as bad as the critics would make you think, but it also doesn't hit the highs that the trailer promises either. I give this film a slightly generous three stars.

THE GREAT GATSBY is rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language