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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

May 27, 2013

The Great Gatsby Movie Review: Leonardo Dicaprio Shines In The Title Role

WE SAW the Francis Ford Coppola 1974 version of “The Great Gatsby” and it certainly pales in comparison to the lush, lavish, opulent, over the top interpretation of Aussie filmmaker Baz Luhrmann (“Romeo & Juliet”, “Moulin Rouge”). The novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald was published in 1925 and it was a flop. When the alcoholic author died in 1940, he was a pauper. But “Gatsby” was rediscovered when it was included in a collection of his works in 1945. Acclaimed by other authors for its social commentary about America in the days of Prohibition and just before the Depression Era, it became a best seller and a literary classic. Up to now, the book’s paperback edition continues to sell half a million copies a year.

Luhrmann has made crucial changes for his film version. The novel is a reminiscence of Nick Carraway (the narrator) of what happened to his neighbour Jay Gatsby and Jay’s love of his life, Daisy. The movie is framed by a psychiatrist interviewing Nick who urges him to write down his story. We see him every now and then typing, with the typewritten words from the book’s famous lines flashed on screen. In the end, he titles his manuscript “Gatsby”, then adds “The Great” later on, handwritten.

The story is about the doomed love affair of Jay (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Daisy (Carrey Mulligan). Nick learns that Jay was initially rejected by Daisy’s family as he’s poor and she marries the very rich Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), who’s an incorrigible womanizer. Jay returns five years later a very wealthy man. It’s said he got his riches from bootlegging. The fantabulous parties he gives in his mansion by the bay in New York’s Long Island, right across where Daisy and Tom live, are bacchanalian feasts bordering on debauchery. This provides Luhrmann and his production designers the chance to come up with garish scenes of wanton extravagance and wild abandon, complete with blasting music provided by Jay-Z to attract younger audiences who might be averse to period films of this sort. Luhrmann’s flamboyant camera work uses dizzying whirling swirling whooshing moves perfect for today’s generation of viewers used to MTV and video games.

But in the end, it becomes too much, sheer unbridled excess. Luhrmann gets carried away, making the movie an overblown exercise in eye-popping self-indulgence and exaggeration of a bygone era when the material itself is actually a simple and personal tragedy about star-crossed lovers that ends in death. Subtlety and restraint are obviously not in his vocabulary. Well, after all, more than anything else, he’s a showman with ADHD at heart and this is the Roaring 20s, so just let it roar.

The best thing in the movie is Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. He embodies the role in a way that Robert Redford in the past version did not. Jack Dawson of “Titanic” has now become the doomed iconic figure of the Jazz Age, Jay Gatsby. He has the perfect charismatic golden screen presence needed to be credible as Gatsby and you’d believe the way Fitzgerald describes him in his novel as a man who can look at someone for an instant and immediately understand how he or she wants to be seen. He’s a poignant and pathetic figure of a man obsessed who does everything just to win back his one true love, but to no avail. This is better than his portrayal of Howard Hughes in “The Aviator”.

At first, we thought Tobey Maguire is wrong as Nick Carraway, but his meek and lackluster screen persona proved to be apt for the lonely character from the Midwest that he plays. You’d really suspect he himself is in love with Gatsby.

The big mistake in the casting is actually Mulligan as Daisy. She just fails to convey the complexity of her role and we don’t see in her any reason why Gatsby should be so enamoured with her. She and DiCaprio also sadly lacks chemistry. When they’re together on screen, you just don’t see the spark igniting the screen the way the fireworks did in the party scenes.

The rest of the cast also doesn’t fare better, except for newcomer Elizabeth Debicki who has such flair and an enticing presence even if she was actually asked very little to do as the sassy Jordan.