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"THE GREAT GATSBY"
(2013) (Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An unassuming young man gets pulled into the roaring twenties world of the wealthy when a mysterious millionaire wants to rekindle his romance with the man's married and equally rich cousin.
PLOT:
It's 1922 and former aspiring writer Nick Carraway (TOBEY MAGUIRE) has moved into a small house in the town of West Egg on Long Island across the bay from his cousin, Daisy Buchanan (CAREY MULLIGAN), who lives in East Egg with her wealthy husband, Tom (JOEL EDGERTON), who went to college with Nick in years past. Nick has moved there so that he can commute into Manhattan as a bond salesman and enjoys being reunited with his cousin and meeting her famous golfer friend, Jordan Baker (ELIZABETH DEBICKI).

She knows Nick's next door neighbor, millionaire socialite Jay Gatsby (LEONARDO DiCAPRIO) who throws elaborate parties where anyone and everyone is invited. No one really knows anything about Gatsby, including his business partner Meyer Wolfsheim (AMITABH BACHCHAN), but the nebulous figure has an interest in Nick. And that's because Gatsby once dated Daisy long before she met Tom, and he now wants back into her life. She's surprised but happy to see him again, no doubt stemming from the fact she knows Tom's had lovers in the past.

In fact, Nick ends up meeting one of them, Myrtle Wilson (ISLA FISHER), the wife of a gas station owner, George (JASON CLARKE), in a poor town on the way from East Egg into Manhattan. As Gatsby tries to win over a confused and unsure Daisy, Nick gets caught up in both that melodrama as well as the trappings of the roaring twenties.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
I'm not one of those people who possesses a photographic memory or the ability to recite exact lines of dialogue from novels or films. In fact, when most any movie question comes up that stumps the rest of us, we turn to a fellow reviewer who inevitably knows the answer. And I have a non-industry fried who's even better than him, at least in terms of the films he's actually seen.

Accordingly, I had to go and do a little field research before seeing the latest cinematic incarnation of "The Great Gatsby." After all, it had been more than three decades since I read F. Scott Fitzgerald's acclaimed novel in high school and I don't recall a thing about the 1974 version starring Robert Redford as the title character and Mia Farrow as the object of his affection.

Most of the plot quickly came back to me while reading up on the work, something I figured was important as this newest version was being helmed by Baz Luhrmann. He's the stylish director known for putting his own unique touches and twists on both his take of the Bard's famous star-crossed lovers tale in "Romeo + Juliet" and turn of the 20th century Paris in "Moulin Rouge!"

Going into the screening, I wondered if he'd play it straight like he did in his most recent film, "Australia," or would include the temporally mismatched music of the aforementioned Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor flick (not to the mention the horrific forced zaniness that accompanied some of that). Having now sat through the 140+ minute film, I can say that the goofy stuff thankfully isn't present, while the use of more modern music in a period piece is. While it's unnecessary (yes, I get the theme of comparing jazz of its bygone era to contemporary hip-hop and such), it isn't completely overdone to the point of irritation.

I was more surprised, however, by the unintentional similarities between this flick and "Titanic," both of which star Leonardo DiCaprio. In the older pic, he plays a poor man who tries to fit in with the gilded set while pursuing the woman of his dreams who's in a relationship with a man she doesn't really love, a sentiment she shares about her wealthy lifestyle. And the decadence of that era -- namely the titular ship -- eventually came crashing down in the film's second half, resulting in Leo's character's watery death.

Here, he plays the title character, a once poor man who reinvented himself into rich surroundings in order to purse the woman of his dreams (Carey Mulligan). She isn't happy being married to her husband (Joel Edgerton) or particularly with his wealth. The excesses of their time (the roaring twenties) surrounds them, but that and his desire to be with his lady ultimately results in the protagonist's undoing (and yes a body of water is involved here as well).

As in the book, their tale is told through the eyes and words of a young man (Tobey Maguire) who's moved next door to Gatsby and soon gets sucked into his lavish lifestyle. I've never been a fan of voice-over narration, but that's occasionally deployed here as Maguire's character recounts the sordid details after the fact to a psychiatrist at the sanitarium where young Nick has been committed.

While the actor has the look of a Midwestern deer caught frozen in the headlights of big city Manhattan and its glitzy suburbs, Maguire is something of the weak link here portraying our entry point to the decadence and melodrama playing out in front of him. DiCaprio is as good as ever (even if some might have an issue with how his character evolves -- or devolves to be more accurate), and Mulligan is decent but unremarkable as the woman pulled in opposite yet similar directions. At least Edgerton comes off as more believable than Billy Zane's nearly mustache twirling counterpart character in "Titanic."

Like the director's other films, this one is lavishly presented, with plenty of elaborate production design to go around, some stylishly done green screen effects (where the performers obviously aren't really in front of their backgrounds), some moments of putting Nick's (and thus the author's) words up on the screen in floating letter form, and a similarly and completely unnecessary presentation of that and everything else in 3D.

Luhrmann and co-scribe Craig Pearce mostly keep Fitzgerald's themes intact (although it would have been more interesting had this film been released in a more recent yet similar era of decadence). Yet, the film doesn't seem to capture the depth of the literary work, as its style overrides much of its substance and thus stretches the original work to something needlessly longer than the fairly concise and compact original novel. And despite the turmoil and tragedy that unfolds, I didn't find any of it particularly emotionally engaging.

I have no idea if tweens will show up for Leo and his conflicted love story in numbers huge like "Titanic" or much more modestly as was the case with "Romeo." Either way, my impression of this latest adaptation of the classic is it neither sinks nor sails majestically. But it sure looks pretty sitting there, something I won't have a hard time remembering. "The Great Gatsby" rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 6, 2013 / Posted May 10, 2013


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