The Great Gatsby (2013): Movie Review

In just 172 pages, F. Scott Fitzgerald has captured the zeitgeist of the Jazz Age, and told the stirring story of love and loss. In this new adaptation of the book, director Baz Luhrmann has used an estimated $127 million, glamorizing with 3D and over the top cinematic effects.

Here is a prime example of ‘the medium is the message.’ Instead of depicting extravagance and excess, the production has become that.

the-great-gatsby-poster1

I went in with an open mind. After all, I had expected a mashed-up, postmodern fusion Luhrmann style. So, even the Jay-Z curated hip hop selections a la Gershwin cacophony was fine with me. After all, it was the unruly Jazz Age, so be it. Gatsby’s creamy yellow roadster speeding towards Manhattan, zigzagging its way through busy streets, Fast and Furious 1920’s version is still acceptable. By the way, the movie was shot in Australia. So, all the Manhattan scenes are visual remixes.

But the main issue for me is the 3D. Not much to be gained there but hindrances. The effects make me feel like I’m looking into a View-Master, artificial and gratuitous. For Gatsby, the extravaganzas in his mansion are only means to an end, to attract his love, Daisy; in Luhrmann’s hands, they are an end in themselves. The flamboyant and ostentatious parties, like their uninvited guests, overstay their welcome in the first part of the almost 2.5 hour production.

If Luhrmann had only used more of his wealth of resources: the rich and talented cast, to explore the story more and go deeper into characterization, and less partying, the movie would have been a wonder.

After all the glitz and glam in the first act, my enjoyment begins when Gatsby meets Daisy in Nick’s humble abode, a set up masterminded by Gatsby. It has taken him five years to this very moment. It is this scene that draws me in from being just an aloof onlooker. From without to within, it is the story and the characters that engage me more than the visual spectaculars.

Leonardo DiCaprio is a fine Gatsby, convincing and comical at times. Carey Mulligan may not be the Daisy I had conjured up from reading the book, but she has mastered her role well on her own terms. She’s a much sweeter, less careless Daisy than I had in mind. Elizabeth Debicki is an apt Jordan Baker. Joel Edgerton as sneaky and snobbish Tom Buchanan needs to smile more, and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway less. The veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan is a good choice for Meyer Wolfsheim. Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson, what a change from a shopaholic, and Jason Clarke too much a hunk to be wimpy Wilson.

One major alteration that I’ve appreciated is Nick writing out the story as a therapy recommended by his doctor, apparently a psychiatrist. The story of Jay Gatsby is also Nick’s own story as a writer. By articulating his experience in words he pays tribute to an unforgettable character, a dreamer who always sees the green light. Without giving out a spoiler, let me just say, the little twist at the end is a nice touch to this new adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

Does it worth a watch? I’d say yes, even in the 3D version. Curiosity is insatiable. And hopefully, the visual spectaculars can draw the viewer back once again to the literary offering Fitzgerald had first created.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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A related Post I wrote 3 years ago at the announcement of this new adaptation. My open letter to Baz Luhrmann:

The Great Gatsby: A New Version

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Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

47 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby (2013): Movie Review”

    1. Stefanie,

      If just for the spectacle, it’s entertaining. But with that great cast, you’d want more story and deeper characterization. Be sure you see the 3D, just to satisfy curiosity. 😉

      Like

    1. Ti,

      I’d say if you’re going to watch it anyway, go for the 3D. So you’ll know what it’s like, for the experience. I’m talking like it’s a wild ride in a theme park. Yes… that’s it.

      Like

      1. And that’s why I avoid 3D like the plague. There’s no place in my world for those wild rides in a theme park! I didn’t even like 3D in the 1950s, when we got the cardboard glasses with the red and blue cellophane!

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      2. I’d go with the 3-D too .. After all that’s what Luhrmann has created. Not going to it could almost be analogous to going to a talkie with the sound turned off because, you know, I don’t like this new-tangled talkie style. That said, I mostly agree with Arti. I suspect Luhrmann wanted it for that over-the-top effect. What I noticed in this film, as in Australia, is an almost comic book effect at times. It’s not sustained, as it wasn’t in Australia. In both there’s a shift to realism for the relationship scenes. It’s a playing with tone that gets him into trouble a bit I think. Overall, I enjoyed it … But felt I need to go back to the book – it’s been a long time – to remind myself of what Fitzgerald was saying. A film isn’t the book, I know, but I’d still like to remind myself.

        Nice review Arti.

        It opened here 2 weeks ago but we waited until last night for the crush to be over.

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        1. WG,

          Yes, I think the first time go for the 3D. But second time, I’d probably watch it in 2D just to get the story and the people, not the effects. I suppose the ostentatious elements Luhrmann puts in well demonstrate the Gatsby style. So in a way, Luhrmann did some justice to the psychological makeup of Gatsby… the overcompensation for an underprivileged background.

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          1. I was thinking the same … see it in 2D next. We nearly saw it in 2D the first time as we’d thought, given it’s setting, we’d go to our cinema’s premium lounge and watch in luxurious seats with a glass of bubbly but their premium lounge cinemas don’t do 3D and we decided that we should see it in 3D. I wish I could squeeze a reread into my schedule but it is so full at present I know I can’t.

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  1. Well that’s a relief! I was worried that the film would be such a disappointment that you would have no choice but to practice some sharp vivisection on it. It’s too bad though that, as we feared, Luhrmann seems to have put the emphasis in the wrong places. As I’ve been going over the book for my chapter by chapter thing-ey I’m struck by how much solid drama is packed into that thin little volume; the parties are just Gatsby’s calling card to dazzle Daisy with, they shouldn’t be an eternal element.

    The idea of having Nick in therapy (I’d heard he’s in a sanitorium for alchoholism) is an interesting device; I noticed you felt Tobey Maguire needs to smile less- so does he come off as a complete idiot? – I just hope he doesn’t ruin the whole thing for me! What a kick to see two Aussie actors from the wondrous Zero Dark Thirty in the key roles of Tom and ‘wimpy Wilson’ as you say. I’m just constantly stunned by the talent pool in the Australian film world.

    One of the parts I’m really eager to see is how Isla Fisher handles the character of Myrtle and how Baz handles that whole relationship. Karen Black’s Myrtle in the 1974 version was so off the charts crazy – sucking the blood off her fingers after punching a hole in the window trying to get Tom’s attention – that it put me off. That version’s Wilson was pretty amazing though!

    Thanks for your always fresh thoughts – and so fast! So glad it wasn’t a disaster – ‘ a dreamer who always sees the green light’ Where would we be without men and women like that?

    Cheers!

    Like

    1. Sim,

      Since you’re seeing it tonight, I better not let out too much. But since you asked about Myrtle and Tom… well, there’s just not much relationship there. Isla Fisher gets very little screen time. That’s one of the reasons for my critique on the lack of story and characterization. And, since we have such a great cast, I’d like to see more of these actors and less of the wild parties.

      As for the Aussie actors, yes, there’s one more. I like her in Parade’s End, and that’s Adelaide Clemens as Myrtle’s sister Catherine. Again, underused. I remember Jason Clarke in ZDT, but not Joel Edgerton. Thanks for pointing that out. I look forward to reading your thoughts after you’ve seen it.

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  2. I’ve been reading bad reviews of the movie, but I will see it for the same reasons that you mentioned. It sounds like a modern-style spectacle of the Jazz-age spectacle. I always thought Robert Redford was miscast. He’s too gorgeous (or was) to be the outsider he’s supposed to be. Leonardo seems in the same mold.

    I’m not crazy about modern music as the soundtrack to a period piece. The 1920s had great music and helps to set the mood, so I think that’s a mistake, but maybe I’m wrong. (It wouldn’t be the first time!) I particularly didn’t like the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette,” such as “I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow. Maybe it did affirm the vacuousness of the characters, but I love the baroque music of that era and felt cheated.

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    1. Cathy,

      I’ve to make a disclosure here: Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet (DVD) is one of the few movies I had to stop watching after 15 mins, too ‘postmodern’ for me. But hey, I sat through 2.5 hrs. here. I’m not into contemporary music either, hip hop, rap, etc… in this movie. But there are so many other distractions that I wasn’t paying too much attention to the music, or maybe just trying to ignore that. I must say, even Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue sounds ostentatious here, unlike the soulful mood in Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Same music, under different directors, elicits totally different effects.

      You’re right about using period music, I would like that. Baroque music for Marie Antoinette would have been perfect, and, like others e.g. Midnight In Paris, and Easy Virtue, Jazz Age music for the Jazz Age. But then again, this is Luhrmann, and I don’t think he’d want the conventional.

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      1. Exactly! I would have enjoyed contemporary music too but that wouldn’t have suited Luhrmann’s purpose I think … It’s too nostalgic for us now and he didn’t want us to get nostalgic. I think he wanted us to see the parties for what they were. For Gatsby they had one goal but for the party goers they were about hedonism and shallowness and the discordant music helps underpin that I think?

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        1. Typos all fixed. Since we’re on music, nostalgia, and Woody Allen, you know his upcoming 2014 movie will be filmed in Southern France, with Colin Firth and Emma Stone, and, they’re looking for 500 extras to be in it, setting in 1920’s, filming this summer. Think you might visit France in the next few months? 😉

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          1. Actually yes … Avignon and Dijon in early September, between Spain and Germany! I wonder … what part of Southern France and do they want a couple of grey hairs!

            Thanks for fixing the typos. I should turn autocorrect off but I keep telling myself it’s useful!

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  3. I’d really like to see this movie. I’m not a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan, but since it is Gatsby I will get over that for the 2.5 hours it takes to watch the film. I would like to read the book again before seeing the movie, though. It’s been a while since I last read the story.

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  4. I might pass on the 3D if they offer both, but would still like to see it — as Catherine mentioned, for the reasons you highlighted. Interesting about the story being Nick’s writing journey — that does sound like a good device. I’ll let you know what I think!

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    1. Jeanie,

      Yes, I’m sure theatres offer both. You know, I don’t mind watching it again some time in the distant future… in 2D. 😉 And one more thing, the nice girl in Parade’s End, Adelaide Clemens is here too as Catherine, Myrtle’s sister, but given only a minor role and very little screen time.

      Like

  5. I do wish 3D were used less gratuitously. I’d only seen a trailer or two for the film and already thought the extravagance of Gatsby’s house over the top. Thank you for your keen review, Arti.

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    1. nikkipolani,

      It’s over the top for sure, but you can still watch it for the spectacle and the set design, the fashion, the Jazz Age glitz. The actors are keen on delivery too you can see. So, for their effort, I’d say go for it.

      Like

    1. Melinda,

      To my surprise, actually this is a very ‘faithful’ adaptation of the book, with the lines appearing on screen. And if you’re underwhelmed by the book, you just might enjoy this visual translation. Hope to hear from you again. 😉

      Like

  6. It’s not yet out in the UK so I’m still waiting for this movie. My friends worked on the movie and I have a long history with the book so I cannot wait. Read mixed reviews though so though I wouldn’t hold my expectations too high I’m sure it’ll be entertaining at the least!

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    1. mee,

      I had the chance to see an advance screening. It’s just opening today, May 10. And it will kick off Cannes Film Fest. May 15. You’ll be able to see it in the UK May 16. You’re welcome to come back and share your thoughts after you’ve seen it.

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  7. I must say, of all the details I’ve learned about this one, the presence of Jay-Z and his music is the worst. I just can’t imagine why anyone would try and pull off something like that. If I’m going to watch The Great Gatsby, I want the Great Gatsby, not the pretty good Gatsby! Of course, Jay-Z is so far down on my list for so many reasons…. Well, there you are. Maybe it’s just too soon after his ill-conceived trip to Cuba with Beyoncé. I might feel differently in three months.

    On the other hand, I did happen across Rex Reed’s review in The New York Observer, and by the time I got done reading I was ready to head for the theatre. I kept thinking, “Nothing could be this bad!” He really eviscerated it.

    I did run across something while working on my current post I think you’ll like – this photo of Scott, Zelda and Fran in an intimate family moment. All of the photos on the page are worth a look – including one of Hemingway in front of Shakespeare & Company in Paris!

    Like

    1. Linda,

      No, it’s not that bad. I can’t say I agree with Rex Reed’s totally scathing criticism. Yes, generally critics agree that it’s an over-the-top, ostentatious production, but there are those who think it’s good. Let me give you two links: Richard Roeper, who used to be Roger Ebert’s partner after Siskel, gives the movie A-, and says it’s “The best attempt yet to capture the essence of the novel.” Here’s the link. Another one is from Toronto Globe and Mail’s Rick Groen’s 3.5 / 4 stars review here.

      Roger Ebert had said that movie reviews were inherently subjective. And I can’t agree more. Basically according to the two conglomerate movie review sites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritics, this movie gets about a 50% approval from critics, which means about half of the critics think it’s good, half don’t. As for the audience? About 80% like it.

      No matter, I think the best form of experience is one’s own. Good or bad, at least one has to see the movie to draw one’s conclusion. Lastly, one thing I’ve learned in these past years of posting reviews, I’d always allowed room for leniency. For those between 2.5 and 3 Ripples, I’d tend to be kinder and give it a 3. Why? I really don’t want to stop my readers from going out to get first-hand experience themselves. 😉

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    2. Amen, Linda! Love your words here, said so eloquently which echo my heart. My husband read the same thing that Rex Reed said, who doesn’t seem to be that wrong from what I can tell. Jay-Z…give me a break.

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    1. Claire,

      Cool. Usually I try not to read reviews before I see a movie, but with this one it’s just so hard with all these buzz and hypes. But for sure, go see it yourself and form your own opinion. You’re welcome to come back and share your thoughts after. 😉

      Like

    1. Esme,

      This movie will kick off the Cannes Film Festival on May 15. I’m sure you’ll be able to see it very soon. Check it out and come back to share with us your thoughts on it. 😉

      Like

  8. I’ve been looking forward to your review of this! I think, though, that I’ll stick with the book. I love it so much, I fear I would be too critical of the film. Your review is the most pleasure I will get from it, I feel sure!

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    1. litlove,

      You’re too kind. If you’re a purist regarding the book, then maybe you’re more at peace without seeing the movie, cause it will only bring cognitive dissonance. 😉

      Like

  9. Thanks for stopping by my book review, and thanks for your movie review! I’m sure my husband and I will see it, probably while it’s still in theaters. 3D tends to give me a headache, so we’ll stick to 2-D. Not much point in paying the extra if I’m just going to sit there with my eyes closed, hoping the ibuprofen kicks in soon!

    Like

    1. Jen,

      Not just a headache, you could avoid motion sickness too, esp. the beginning. So, 2D it is. You’re welcome to come back and throw your 2 pebbles in the pond for some ripples. I’d be curious to know what you think. 😉

      Like

  10. I had high hopes for this film, despite the choice of DiCaprio as Gatsby. But, your review, and the way that Rex Reed called it “a horror” (according to my husband), I’m reluctant to see it. I’m sure that Carey Mulligan is indeed a sweeter Daisy than either you or I imagined; I don’t even want to think about Jay z doing any music for this classic story. Over the top seems to sum it up, which I find so sad when the story is enough.

    p.s. so LOVED Swann’s Way which goes up in the 15th. Can’t wait to read your thoughts.

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    1. Bellezza,

      For the purists, this is not for them. And yes, it would be nice to have ‘period music’ for a ‘period film’. You’re right about ‘the story is enough.’ But I think translating it on a cinematic medium it would have to be re-imagined. Mind you, the storytelling actually does stick to the book, other than the therapy session, which may not be directly from the book, is congruent with Fitzgerald’s life later.

      As for Proust, yes, I’m looking forward to our discussion May 15. Glad you’ve enjoyed the read-along… two more days. 😉

      Like

  11. We in Australia still have to wait a few more weeks until the movie starts here. I’m looking forward to it. I didn’t know 3D was an option. My local cinema has awful 3D, so I think I’ll pass on that if it’s in 2D too. Still looking forward to it. I’ve seen the trailer a few times and it looks amazing.

    Like

    1. Louise,

      As you know by now, critics are split almost 50/50 on this movie. I’d be interested to see what you think. You’re welcome to stop by and share with us your thoughts after you’ve seen it. 😉

      Like

  12. Arti, I finally got around to seeing it this weekend — in 3D. I did not think the 3D added anything to the story. I did not have to feel like shirts tossed over a railing were flying in my face. It was an unnecessary gimmick. What impressed me most about this big screen adaptation was Leonard DiCaprio. I thought he nailed Gatsby, and this is one of his most impressive performances.

    Like

    1. lameadventures,

      As you know, I’m totally with you here re. the 3D. I think it’s gratuitous and even a hindrance to the storytelling. I also agree with you re. Leo’s acting. I have a hunch that… come Awards Season next, the film could get noms for set design and costume, and, Leo could well be in for a Best Actor nom.

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      1. I think you’re onto something Arti about it scoring nominations for set and costume design. As much you and I enjoyed Leo’s performance, it seems to me that the leading male field is often rather crowded come awards season. This film might have been released too early in the year for his performance to continue to resonate when December rolls around. Time will tell.

        Like

        1. The movie was supposed to come out last year in December just to catch the Awards Season then, but was withdrawn. My suspicion was that there were just too much competition last year for it to gain anything… delaying till this May could mean less competition, and a spring/summer release box office gain, which is happening now actually, $51 million in the opening weekend. And, its being the kick off movie at Cannes 2013 is another advantage too. And the ripples could well last till this fall. I think this is one movie that can’t be so easily forgotten, for good or bad. Just my hunch. 😉

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  13. Saw it this Sunday, and walked away amazed that I loved it. NOT the Jay-Z part, but all the rest: the over the top parties and his love for Daisy…I was actually quite moved this time, y a story which had always puzzled me in its immense popularity.

    Like

    1. Bellezza,

      So glad you did go and experience it yourself… rather than depending solely on reviews, Rex Reed’s or mine. Different people respond to the same stimuli differently. I think Leo’s acting deserves some recognition. Carey Mulligan may be the sweetest Daisy we’ll ever get. But I still feel Tobey Maguire is a bit weak. Anyway, I’ve a hunch that, like me, you wouldn’t mind seeing it again some time in the future. Did you see it in 3D? The next time I’d go for the 2D… so I can focus more on the story and character, rather than the visual effects.

      Like

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