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“The Great Gatsby” Review: A Haunting Spectacle Not To Be Missed

By on May 11, 2013
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby. Image: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture © 2013 Bazmark Film

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby. Image: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture © 2013 Bazmark Film

Initially, hearing Jay-Z and Will.i.am in the background of the seminal Gatsby story may seem a little grating. Indeed, the very modern soundtrack seems to be one of the most common criticisms of the film. After a while, whether there’s rap on your iPod or not, the music is one of the key forces in building the dream-like spectacle that is The Great Gatsby. During the required moments it raises the stakes, bringing us from sad to crushed, or from bemused to amazed. Thanks to the stellar cast, sometimes the beautiful tension in the scenes without any music at all are the most powerful.

An elegant wisp of a woman, the coquettish Carey Mulligan (Drive) shines as Daisy Buchanan. Even as she vainly distorts her priorities and frustrates us, there is an innately likable quality about her. Her much less affable husband, Tom Buchanan, is played menacingly well by Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty). Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, and Elizabeth Debicki also star with strong performances.

Tobey Maguire plays Nick Carraway, the vessel through which we see the story. His big, expressive eyes adequately display the appropriate amount of shock, skepticism, affection, or distaste necessary throughout the film. Unlike in the book, he is telling the story from an insane asylum. This creative liberty may irritate some, though it is easy to forget about once we are swept up in the actual story of Gatsby, bringing us to the man himself…

It’s like Leonardo DiCaprio was born to play this role. When he turns and faces us for the first time with that smile that “understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself,” it becomes immediately clear that Leo has a complete and thorough grasp of this iconic character. Balancing the grandeur and charm with the neurotic insecurities, it is easy to see his internal struggle. His face is an open book, shifting through naked and raw emotions right before our eyes. Obsessed, naively hopeful, and wildly romantic, it is impossible not to endure his struggle right alongside him. His passion in Gatsby’s vision is inspiring, if not downright contagious.

Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan. Image: Warner Bros. Picture © 2013 Bazmark Film

Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan. Image: Warner Bros. Picture © 2013 Bazmark Film

To discuss the plot of the film would essentially mean rehashing what many of us discussed at length in high-school English class, but the movie may succeed in offering a new perspective on the classic message. At the very least, it offers an opportunity to rediscover (or discover) this epic tale of moral decay, tragic romance, and the pursuit of “the American dream” in the roaring 1920s. Just like in the novel, the allure and audacity of excessive beauty is captivating at first. The spiral into disillusionment is slow, but uncomfortably honest.

The thing about book to film adaptations is that the film needs to, above all, capture the feeling and message of the book. Readers become avid fans of the stories they love, and everyone has their own interpretation of it, or a scene they would love to see. You can’t please them all. Books allow us to build a world in our minds, and a stranger putting that world on the big screen cannot do so perfectly. Director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) does an astounding job of bringing that world to life. It is rare to find a movie over two hours long that doesn’t feel self-indulgently lengthy, but Gatsby flies by in its unearthly, haunting manifestation of the great novel.