I can't claim to be a movie critic. I can't claim to know much about what makes a movie great as opposed to really entertaining. I can however claim to know what I like, and that's what this post is about. It might go without saying that there are spoilers in this post, but just in case it doesn't- there are spoilers in this post for both the movie and the book.
The Big Guy and I went out to see the new movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby recently. Actually on opening night because he knows how much I love this story. The verdict? Loved it. It's one that I've already mentioned we should own and would be a great gift for me. I'm not very subtle when it comes to those sorts of hints. We didn't see it in 3D, mostly because I don't care for 3D, and this wasn't an action or horror movie where I felt like the 3D was going to add anything. Still glad we made that choice.
Visually, I found the movie stunning. The depiction of the parties and the differences between East and West Egg and the valley of ashes was amazing. The stark contrast among the locations and the people within them was really well executed. I loved the effects while everyone was driving, it was definitely dizzying, which I think was perfect for those scenes. The extravagance of Gatsby's parties and the pure excess of everything that goes on at his place was amazing. The music was great, not as period-specific as it could have been, but a really good compliment to all that was happening on screen. Probably going to be downloading it this week.
I did have a few problems with the movie and the interpretation that Baz Luhrman and team provided. First, if you're looking for an exact replica of the novel, just on the big screen, it's not this one. First, this is not a love story. Gatsby and Daisy are not a pair of star-crossed lovers who have been kept apart by a cruel universe. He's in love with all that she represents that he'll never have, and she's bored. That's cynical I know, but if you really look at each character, it's true.
Second, what happened to the Tom and Myrtle story? Myrtle was barely present which diminishes the tragedy around her death. I wanted to see more of her. Tom was far too sympathetic in this movie. I almost felt bad for him, which I don't want to do. He's careless and selfish and truly the "hulking brute" that Daisy accuses him of being in their opening scene. But you miss that aspect of his character in this. He's too polished, he's too invested in the possibility of losing Daisy. He knows she'll never leave, and neither will he. They belong together. They have this carefully crafted existence where other people are of no real consequence and they insulate themselves from everything that is inconvenient or uncomfortable, which is most of reality. It's like at the end when you see Daisy reaching for the phone like she might call Gatsby, like she wants that final moment of connection so that she can move on. She doesn't. She's already moved on to whatever Tom decided would be next.
Third, I really didn't care for the way they changed things around Nick. Making him a writer and an alcoholic just wasn't necessary. (I kind of assume that almost everyone in the story is an alcoholic to some extent.) We get that he's the one telling the story, we get that he's the one doing the voice overs. You don't have to show him to me at a type writer for me to understand that. It weakened his position in the story. He's a hanger on, he doesn't really care about the people he's with aside from the entertainment they provide, and to imply that he was so affected by Gatsby that he's been driven to a sanitarium is just too much. Some of this may be that Tobey Maguire is just too wide eyed and innocent to play this role with the apathy I think it needs.
Having listed off the main things that I didn't like, the one thing done differently in this movie that I absolutely loved, was Leonardo DiCaprio's performance. For most of the movie I was comparing his Gatsby to Robert Redford's Gatsby. (I recently re-watched the version with Redford and Mia Farrow.) Redford was all suave and polish, DiCaprio had a few cracks and those cracks got bigger as the movie went on. There was an excited, frenetic energy to his portrayal that made you think he was on the edge of a complete collapse at any moment. Then he does collapse and it's like everything about his image, his facade comes crashing down around him. In that moment you get to see that he and Tom are two sides of the same coin. He's already lost Daisy at that point, but his outburst is still shocking.
The Big Guy thought there was too much that actually showed Gatsby as a criminal rather than leaving it up to you as the viewer to put together, but I liked that. I thought it supported the way DiCaprio presented the character. He was under so much pressure, from himself as well as these outside sources, that he wasn't going to be capable of standing up forever under it all. He was frayed at the very beginning and he slowly comes more and more unravelled. It's like the scene at the Plaza towards the end where he tries to straighten his pink jacket and tuck his hair back into place- once you've seen it out of place it never goes quite back to where it was or where you think it should be. Just like how the truth about Gatsby eventually comes out and you can never get quite back to what you first thought of him when you thought he was just a millionaire playboy.
Overall I thought it was a beautiful movie, and one that I will definitely watch again. A few of the things I didn't like stood out to me because I'd just finished the book a few days before. I'm sure that if I give it enough time those things won't be nearly as obvious as they are right now. Like any book to movie adaptation there are going to be changes, changes that make the story more entertaining or more accessible to a wider audience, and in some cases a different audience than those who read the book. For all its flaws, this one was well done, and absolutely lived up to and exceeded my expectations in a few areas.