Sunday, June 9, 2013

'Gatsby' post-review: It's not bad, old sport

Carey and Leo as Daisy and Jay
The wonder of any film adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" is: why bother remaking it for the umpteenth time.

It's bound to be a mushy mess.

Throw in director Baz Luhrmann this time around and it's capable of being a frenzied mess.

Luhrmann, of "Moulin Rouge!" fame, keeps his frenetic camerawork in check, most of the time, and it works.

"Gatsby" is, as you would expect, visually ravishing with costumes and colors that are mesmerizing.

This "Gatsby," is the best one yet.

The music, much of it from today's hip-hip world, doesn't disrupt the flow of the film and, at times, is barely recognizable. However, the original theme composed for the film by Craig Armstrong, is what's really memorable about the music.

This "Gatsby," captures the feel of the novel, at least for the first two-thirds of the movie, better than all other adaptations.

For a time, a I felt transported back in time, to not only the 1920s, but also to my young adulthood in the 1970s.

When Luhrmann departs from the original text and goes all-in on the characters, "The Great Gatsby" approaches greatness. When Luhrmann goes back to the plot, the film loses some steam and becomes a conventional melodrama. At 142 minutes long, the film lags at the end.

I had no problems with Luhrmann's deviation from the novel. Using the narrator, Nick Carraway, as a recovering alcoholic in a sanitorium was clever. Not using Daisy and Tom Buchanan's daughter at all as a crucial element in the narrative, was expedient. And, not including Gatsby's father at the funeral was understandable.

The lead actors, Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy, definitely carry the weight of the film and exhibit actual screen chemistry. Mulligan is such a great actress that she becomes the pivot around which all the other actors dance.

Elizabeth Debicki, as Jordan Baker, is another revelation. She captures the look (Clara Bow's "it girl") and feel (party girl who's easily bored) of the Jazz Age better than anyone else in the film.

While "The Great Gatsby" is considered one of the great American novels, it apparently has even greater resonance to British and Australian filmmakers.

The 1974 "Gatsby," starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, was directed by an Englishman, Jack Clayton.

Luhrmann, the major creative force behind this version, is Australian, as are most of the actors in the film. In fact, the movie was mostly shot in Australia.

Perhaps the reason "The Great Gatsby" appeals to British/Australian sensibilities is because it's about a destructive class system, which, amazingly, most Americans today do not understand.

The class division in this country directly reflects the rich-poor divide of the 1920s, which is graphically depicted in both novel and films of "Gatsby."

What "The Great Gatsby" needs is a modern retelling of this classic.

There a number of examples of rise and eventual fall among the various non-white groups in this country. Their stories was worth telling and worth watching.

But, hats off to Luhrmann and his wife, production designer Catherine Martin, for daring to hold up a mirror from the 1920s so that we can see ourselves today in the 2010s.

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