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The Great Gatsby (2013)

tn_greatgatsbyI’m kinda late on writing this one up, not sure if it’s even playing anywhere anymore, but what are you gonna do.

THE GREAT GATSBY is the story of this rich guy that’s in love with a gal that’s already married. It turns out he only got rich to try to impress her ’cause when he first fell in love with her 5 years ago she found out he was, as he says, penniless, and married this other asshole, etc. Leonardo DiCaprio (THE QUICK AND THE DEAD) plays the rich guy, Gatsby, Carey Mulligan (DRIVE) plays his love interest Daisy Buchanan, and Joel Edgerton (ANIMAL KINGDOM) plays her husband Tommy. But the main character is actually Tobey Maguire as whatsisdick, Daisy’s weiner of a cousin.

I haven’t read the book in decades, but I think this is a problem with doing it as a movie. In a book you gotta have a narrator, unless it’s all pictures. And sometimes making that narrator be a side character in the story is a good way to tell it. But in a movie you’re looking at this guy, you start and end the movie with him, you share his POV, you see him standing in the room not doing anything while the other characters are doing their thing. And you start to wonder – what the fuck is this guy’s problem? Why is he so obsessed with his cousin and her boyfriend? It’s seriously all he ever concerns himself with. He needs to pick up some other interests in my opinion. Then I’ll watch a movie about him.

And it made me realize I don’t think I really like Tobey Maguire as an actor all that much. I mean, the Spider-mans were fun. Does he have anything else but this nerdy put-upon character? Maybe it’s time for his terrorist leader or alcoholic cop role. Call up David Ayers or somebody.

mp_greatgatsbyPredictably, DiCaprio’s good as Gatsby the Great and Powerful. He put on a little weight in his head, not sure if it’s for the character or if he’s finally starting to age like a human. He does seem a little less baby faced, finally. He says he’s 32 and it’s the first time I ever thought he seemed older than the age he’s playing. Of course he can do folksy-accented-center-of-attention-who-wears-suits-and-has-servants-and-shit in his sleep, but in this movie he’s best when the facade starts to crack. I like the scene where cousin whatsisdick has arranged for Gatsby to surprise Daisy after 5 years of separation. Gatsby starts getting nervous and erratic, he tries to make a run for it, comes back soaked from rain. If you’re gonna wear a white suit in the rain don’t go for the dark colored pocket square, we learn. He looks like an x-ray.

It’s directed by Baz Luhrmann, shot in actual 3D, and it’s some of the best 3D I’ve seen. The only flaw in that department is the early scenes that are cut too quickly, which for me causes actual eye pain in a 3D movie. But the editing calms down quickly. I’ve noted before that shots through windows always look cool in 3D, and right at the beginning of this movie Luhrmann shows Maguire through a window with snow outside, and you know he’s not fuckin around 3D-wise. The movie is heavily digitaled up with big camera swoops down streets, across bodies of water, through huge parties with dancers, swimmers, confetti, fireworks. It was truly THE GREAT GATSBY in Real-D 3D where available.

Because it’s Luhrmann of course it’s very gaudy and baroque and sometimes intentionally anachronistic. But this one’s not as committed to it as ROMEO + JULIET (which put guns and Hawaiian shirts into Shakespeare’s play) or even MOULIN ROUGE (from what I remember a period musical but using pop songs of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s). I’d say GATSBY goes about 96% standard period detail, including mostly period appropriate music by Gershwin and Cole Porter and what not, but then there are I think four Jay-Z songs. You figure since Jay-Z is credited as the executive producer of the movie, not just the soundtrack, that he’d try to secure some new songs. He did a whole album for AMERICAN GANGSTER. But he doesn’t do that this time. He just beats on, a boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past of Watch the Throne and The Blueprint 3. The funniest part of the movie is when they’re zipping along in their convertible and suddenly another car pulls up beside them, the inhabitants pouring champagne and listening to “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).”

Jay-Z as executive producer – I wonder what that means. Not just what he did on the movie exactly, but why he was interested in taking the project. Is it a SCARFACE situation where he’s only looking at the surface, and wants to be associated with Gatsby’s opulence and extravagant parties? Or does he feel like he’s Gatsby, the riches are all a put-on to win the heart of Beyonce? And if so who is the weinery cousin in this scenario? I doubt it’s Kanye. Does Jay-Z have a hypeman? Is Tobey Maguire Jay-Z’s hype man?

This is obviously a good cast, with plenty of good performances. Edgerton gets to sort of do a Pacino impression, he seems to be having fun. Jason Clarke is good too, I got my eye on him now after he was so great in ZERO DARK THIRTY. Lots of Australians in there, by the way. Even has Steve Bisely, Goose from MAD MAX. Not an Australian but Isla Fisher as Tommy’s mistress (and Clarke’s wife). I always like her.

It is a movie with many good qualities, but kinda boring and offputting. I don’t regret seeing it because I love seeing good 3D like this, but I didn’t think the movie as a whole was all that… excellent.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 24th, 2013 at 2:42 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

29 Responses to “The Great Gatsby (2013)”

  1. Isla Fisher may not be an actual Australian but she was originally known (at least here in the UK) for being in the Aussie soap Home & Away. Still not gotten around to seeing this myself and your lukewarm feelings don’t really inspire me to get out and do it.

    Out of interest, Vern, have you seen Before Midnight? Or either of the previous films? I watched them all again last week. Still absolutely adore the first and really like the other two. I’d love to see your thoughts on all three films.

  2. I suspect the reason for not getting new songs from Jay-Z is because the kind of people who like Baz Luhrman films don’t want to hear new songs. That would take up a tiny bit of spare brain which they don’t have.
    They want to hear familiar shit they’ve already heard over and over again
    They’re the type of people who scream with happiness when somebody plays Love Shack for the sixteen-millionth time, or the kind of people you see drunkenly singing along to Abba in a big group, crying with happiness.

  3. I actually suspect the real reason for not getting Jay-Z songs is because he didn’t feel like it. I also suspect that having Jay Z songs in this movie is stupid and the reason why I hate Baz Luhrman.

  4. The Great Gatsby is a damn near unfilmable book. You’re not supposed to trust the narrator, and I know plenty of people who absolutely hate whatshisdick in the novel, but still love it as a classic piece of literature. It’s also not really a love story. I’ve always read the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy as Gatsby’s attempt to fill some sort of lack, and in order to do so he has to conjure up this great love story. And she’s just having fun getting back at her husband. It’s also a novel about the unsavory nature of Wall Street, even if this gets pushed to the background and hardly mentioned when discussing the book.

    For me the movie was an interesting adaptation. It’s fun to compare the Lurhman Gatsby with the real thing. And I’m glad it’s bringing more attention to a classic work of literature. Still, it’s a mediocre movie.

  5. Oh, and I second the possibility for a Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight trilogy of reviews on The Life and Art of Vern. I’m going through all three right now. I’ve rewatched the first two, and I plan on seeing the third in the next week or so. Man, I love those movies.

  6. I read GATSBY three or four times throughout high school and college, and at no point did I think, “Wow, this would make a great movie. That scene where they sit around and get drunk…cinema!” I don’t get the attraction. It’s a great book, not a great story.There’s a difference. A great story can be adapted into any medium. A great book is great because of elements that can’t be replicated in other forms. Not every famous book needs to be a movie.

  7. Leo’s definitely playing younger than he is in WOLF OF WALL STREET, which looks great.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iszwuX1AK6A

  8. Jason Clarke first hit my radar during the tv show, The Chicago Code, which I’m still bitter about getting cancelled. And really, he’s just been excellent in everything I’ve seen since. I loved him in Lawless. I still think of that scene where he just comes through the house and kicks ass without even pausing at the door.

  9. Not seen this, not sure I really want to see this.

    In shameless capitalism talk though, we must give credit to WB for salvaging that film. Remember it was suppose to come out in Christmas as Oscar Bait but WB then delayed it to May and I thought that was fucking insane. Yes this prestige project inbetween IRON MAN 3 and STAR TREK 2: NOT THE WRATH OF KHAN. Pffft, what summertime moviegoers would want to go see that?

    Well many did, mostly women and older people who had no interest shockingly in big action/comic book blockbuster sequels. The power of great marketing and quote on quote “counterprogramming.”

    Doesn’t mean the movie is good of course (and apparently its not) I want to believe in a naive way that something like TGG doing decent in friggin May would pay off somehow positively down the road.

  10. Elizabeth Bennet

    June 24th, 2013 at 7:17 am

    I love the book but completely agree with RBatty024 that it is not a novel one wants to watch. It must seem like a challenge to try.

    This film to me resembled Moulin Rouge with Leo as Satin and Toby as Christian (he even wrote). I don’t really know much about 3D but I didn’t see the point in making this one in 3D.

    Having said that I like Baz Luhrman’s style and enjoyed all his films. Even Australia. So this one was not a total loss but it was mediocre, I agree.

    Now Leo on the other hand, I think did a great job. Kudos man, looking forward to Wolf of Wall Street.

  11. Maggie: I didn’t really care for LAWLESS but that part was awesome. “Have you met Howard?” Boom, he comes busting in like the fuckin’ Kool Aid Man.

  12. Mr. Majestyk: I agree about LAWLESS. It was just short of okay, but that was the best part.

  13. I Donno. I thought the middle hour of this movie was pretty damn great and gatsby calls for 3D on a deeper thematical level than most. The opulence of the 3d in a story about sitting around in mansions getting drunk is almost an extension of Gatsby’s personal facade.

    I didn’t like the beginning or ending but I do think that the film is worthwhile and Toby Maguire was perfectly cast as a guy you forget is even in the room.

  14. Knox Harrington

    June 24th, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    Maguire’s best movie is still Wonder Boys. I dig movies about insecure writers.

  15. Tobey MaGuire was more than impressive in “Brothers.” In my humble opinion.

  16. I haven’t seen this yet. I kinda swore off Luhrmann and his assault-by-confetti sensibility after AUSTRALIA. But there’s been such split opinions on this one, I’m mildly curious.

    And yeah, from what I’ve seen, I felt BROTHERS had Maguire’s best performance. It has Gyllenhaal’s and Portman’s most impressive work, too. That movie gets no respect.

  17. Baz Luhrmann can’t help but make films that are a big tacky celebration of wealth and opulence, which is kind of missing the point of the book. But whatever. Teenage girls need fun films to watch too.

  18. fun fact: the oldest book I’ve ever read was Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, I tried reading Poe once, but I had no idea WHAT the fuck he was on about (The Fall of the House of Usher is about a mansion that collapses into the ground or…..something? is it supposed to be a pun?), that 19th century style of writing may as well be written in a different language for as well as I can understand it (is it just Poe or is all literature from that era and before like that?)

    however, Brave New World was written in 1931 and I understood that one perfectly, so there’s still plenty of classic literature that should be accessible to me, all in due time….

  19. as for Baz Luhrmann, I don’t really have an opinion, I only watched Moulin Rouge to see Nicole Kidman dance around in lingerie

  20. Agree with Knox about WONDER BOYS. Michael Douglas is so great basically destroying the cinematic image the public had about him up to that point. I liked Toby in THE GOOD GERMAN, too. Really played against type there.

    The only movie of Baz I hold any fondness for is ROMEO + JULIET. My 15-year old self would admit to loving it much more than the current one who’s approaching 30, but that’s the appeal really. Plus it really introduced me to Radiohead, which is good enough reason to still hold it any esteem. And finally, it allowed that hilarious sequence in HOT FUZZ to exist.

    But no desire to see this. Much more looking forward to WOLVES OF WALL STREET, which looks like GATSBY on crack. I mean that in the best way possible.

  21. *WOLF OF WALL STREET, my bad.

  22. Actually, there’s a movie that came out last year that almost NO ONE saw that has Tobey’s best work. It’s called “The Details” and I believe it only recently hit DVD after a truly pathetic theatrical/VOD run. From what I understand it was one of those really expensive Weinstein purchases that they forgot was growing moss in some warehouse, and evidently had ZERO idea how to market it.

    In the movie, Tobey is married to Elizabeth Banks, but he becomes obsessed with killing the obnoxious raccoon in their garden fucking up all their plants. His paranoia and anger manifest themselves in killing the neighbor’s cat (Laura Linney is REALLY funny in this role) and cheating with one of his dentist patients (Kerry Washington, who is married to Ray Liotta, and you can imagine how that goes).

    It’s not one of the best films of last year, but it’s a really funny, really dark comedy that I think deserves a shot, and I’d love to see Vern provide his take on it.

    As for this, yeah, “Gatsby” wasn’t meant to be a movie. I appreciated Baz and company for the attempt, though – this was better than the waterlogged Redford version, as well as the dry TV version with Paul Rudd that I swear I didn’t hallucinate. In addition to the prose itself, I took issue with the matching of Leo with the obviously-younger Carey Mulligan, and her casting didn’t feel on-point here. It felt like Baz wanted to make this a colorful, multi-culti celebration of the book, which is interesting until you take into account the minstrelsy of the black extras, as well as Indian power broker Wolfshiem being referred to as a “kike” with no one batting an eye.

    Also, I love Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke, and I think they should be in most movies. But I felt like, the farther down the cast list, the more outsized and ridiculous the performances felt.

    Vern, surprised you didn’t comment on the music more. Baz was clearly trying to simulate that sort of enthusiastic party spirit, which is universal and contemporary, unlike more period-specific tunes. Had a friend who complained about this without having seen the film, preferring the movie take an approach more like “Boardwalk Empire.” Dude, we have like fifty episodes of “Boardwalk Empire.” We have only one Baz Luhrmann “Great Gatsby” where Samantha Debicki (stopthepresswhoisTHAT) dances to dubstep.

  23. Yeah, I was looking for the Hawaiian shirts and the ’70s pop music. This is Baz Luhrmann. I was hoping for 50% standard period detail, 20s flappers are cool, they can stay in. But the anachronisms really worked in the other two movies.

    Some back up dancers from Michael Jackson’s “Bad”? 50s Greasers? Coolio?

    Oh well.

  24. You need to see BROTHERS. The movie’s pretty good, but Maguire is fantastic in it, Oscar-worthy. He’s somehow both empathetic and terrifying.

  25. I remember a few years ago hearing about them filming a movie in Seattle starring Maguire, Banks & Linney. I never knew what the movie was & didn’t care enough to find out. Sounds like it’s worth checking out. I can’t remember which neighborhood they were filming in, but a woman called the radio station saying both Maguire & Linney were both really nice & that Banks was a bitch. I would never take one random person’s word on something like this, but it has made me wonder.

  26. The character of the narrator of THE GREAT GATSBY always felt to me to be a take that on the part of F. Scott Fritzgerald to all the people who hold back on having an opinion of their own. The book itself starts with the narrator taking to heart a dumb advise from his father that a man shouldn hold his opinion. The whole story is the narrator discovering that you do have to take sides and an opinion is important. And the notion you can live your entire life without making choices and taking sids is absurd.

    Everytime is see anybody with the “let’s agree to disagree” or the “the middle position is the virtue” attitudes reminds me of the narrator of this book and how this guy needed a harsh cruel lesson in the form of the death of a friend to wake up from the slumber intellectual cowardice of uninvolvement.

  27. Jareth Cutestory

    June 27th, 2013 at 6:20 am

    Vern: I’ll second onthewall’s recommendation of Maguire’s performance in THE GOOD GERMAN; he doesn’t transcend his innate weinerness, but adds some interesting shades to it. His performance holds its own with Clooney and Blanchett, which couldn’t have been easy, even if neither lead is swinging for the fences.

    I’ve always wondered where that particular film would fall in your ongoing analysis of Soderbergh’s work.

  28. Griff, Poe’s weird stories were very much his own thing and not really typical of 19th century fiction, so you shouldn’t let it put you off reading earlier stuff–it’d be like if someone from 100 years had never seen any movie from the 20th century except for Eraserhead, and then never wanted to see any other 20th century movies because it was too hard to follow and they figured that was typical of the time period. If you want something with a more straightforward plot you could try something by Charles Dickens or Jane Austen…and if you like sci-fi you could try H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds and The Time Machine are both good (and they basically founded the alien invasion and time travel genres…both are also pretty short reads if you don’t want to get into a long 19th century novel). And even though they aren’t sci-fi, Sherlock Holmes and Alice in Wonderland are also often enjoyed by the types of people who like sci-fi…

  29. you’re right, I should probably give the 19th century another shot

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