The Great Gatsby, 2013 film adaptation/remake of the book can be summarized by one word: excess. Its heavy-handed screenwriting results in excessive scenes to hammer in a relatively simple idea. Its ambitious attempt to make the film an 'experience' results in excessive CGI and choreography clearly designed for 3D. Its desire to be relevant to the audience leads to excessive references to modern issues. And the overarching theme of the story told is also about excess. However, despite all this excess, it is a powerful film, with poignancy that I haven't experienced at the theaters since Watchmen.
There are many things this film does poorly, but also a few things it does really well that I can almost regard it as a great movie. Between the completely flat narration, dizzying array of party colors and anachronisms, the scenes without words, and especially the character development and chemistry between Dicaprio and his co-stars are what kept me invested.
DiCaprio definitely stole the show portraying Gatsby with virtuosity, and while I couldn't see Tobey Maguire without seeing Spiderman, I think he did a decent job being the awkward insider-observer through whose eyes we can view the roaring twenties. What intrigues me is that this film has no clear protagonist or antagonists; it blurs the moral line for every character, including Gatsby and Carraway. Every character evangelizes a world of hedonistic living outshining the virtues of respectability and responsibility, but wisely refrains from condoning it, simply acknowledging it as the social norm.
This film is a tragedy in its core, a scenic tour into the corroded psyche of our society's wealthiest; a social commentary with no purpose other than finger pointing at the wrong, but offering no solution or redemption. There are deeper truths and revelations enveloped between the lines which are unfortunately packaged in a weakish script, so it is likely the average movie-goer will overlook them and be less rewarded for their two hours.
I have not seen the earlier film adaptations nor read the original novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but after viewing this film I believe they need a look at. This is a very good story with significance, but a slightly unpleasant movie-going experience, and honestly I think that is what we should be feeling given the subject matter presented. If they didn't try so hard to 3D-ify the movie, or underline the earlier scenes with modern music in the first act, I probably would have appreciated this film's intentions more thoroughly than I did, but since profit margins are one of them, I think this remake will slowly fade from memory.
7.5 / 10.0
I'm very sure almost everyone who watched the 2D screening of this film would complain about how '3D' it felt and how much it distracts us from keeping our attention on the story itself. The CGI and green screen work for this film is very substandard, it is very obvious when they weren't really shooting on location, and some of the partying scenes have sporadic edits that I can't appreciate the effort they put (or didn't put) in representing the time setting correctly.
There has not been many movies which I have watched where 3D added anything to the likeability of the film itself (except maybe Avatar which really was a final year computer graphics project more than a film anyway), and especially with 3D re-releases for Titanic, Jurassic Park, Star Wars I and many others, there's basically one word justifying their existence; money!
When directors have the audacity to remake classics they generally employ one of three strategies: they re-imagine it (The Karate Kid), they update it (Willy Wonka), or they simply duplicate it with better special effects/visuals/execution (King Kong). This one falls into the last category, but fails in that respect. Everything else in this film except the visuals, powerpoint text floating effects and 3D-ification is actually good. Seriously, what's the point of making a film adaptation of a novel if you're going to persistently print the words the narrator is already narrating?
Leonardo DiCaprio has almost never and will probably never play a normal character. He always represents some social outlier, a protagonist with a heart of gold but with serious personal problems, and psychological unwellness. His performance here feels almost reminiscent of Catch Me If You Can, and I am a bit troubled by how baby face he still looks despite almost hitting his 40s.
What I do like about his rendition of Gatsby is that he remains true to his cause. He doesn't represent some political ideal. He just wants to be a rags to riches success story without the evangelistic component (i.e. "if I can do it you can too"), and also a happily ever after with his pre-war sweetheart as a cherry on top of sorts. I'm surprised the director didn't salt the character with how the war impacted him, or why it didn't. The whole time setting of being straight after World War I is kind of glossed over in the first 30 baffling minutes of the film, and Gatsby, who I guess is supposed to be a war veteran, only mentions his war experiences in passing.
You can argue that his vision of the future is so strong and so complete, he feels that everything along the way (the war, the bootlegging alcohol, the affair) are ultimately insignificant blips in his grand picture, that it won't change who he is or pollute his dream. This is admirable, but it completely wastes the potential study/commentary on post-war economic ecstasy in America, which is now nearing a century ago. The story goes from failed commentary in the first act to a personal story in the second and third act. Even more sadly is that the film works better as character study than theme-driven plot, the latter of which is what I think the novel was like.
I like how he uses Carraway to sparingly channel his inner thoughts so that it's not all a mystery to the audience, and the awkward neighbourhoodship between them are loosely held by the fact that they're both 'poor' people, in that they weren't born into extravagance and prosperity. Unlike Carraway though, whose entry into West Egg and attempt to join the world of the wealthy was doomed to fail from day one, Gatsby had a real shot of becoming one of them without being one of them.
Gatsby's attempts to re-kindle his relationship with Daisy through showing off his wealth, his stories and his ability to blend in was almost successful, except that he still held onto one thing from his past: dignity of the poor. He represents the poor who distinguishes people born into wealth as opposed to those who earns it, granting more respect to the latter. But to the wealthy, rich is rich, regardless of how it was obtained, and respectability is from staying rich.
Gatsby does secretly recognise his 'merits' are tainted with the same poisonous content that the rich consume every day and night (which he sells), and is haunted by the necessary dealings to uphold his guise that he earned his fortune. This is why when Tom points it out he completely breaks, and finally shows his most vulnerable side. That single moment when he kills Tom with his stare during the confrontation scene is what made DiCaprio such a juicy actor to watch despite playing very similar roles every time. In one glance he summarises his own character's insecurities, weaknesses and failures, quickly realising he just lost the game of chess against Tom.
Leo doesn't disappoint when it comes to his characters' climaxes, but you do have to get there to be fully rewarded for bearing with him being mysterious, distant and unpredictable for the first two acts.
There is a narrative overtone in this film to suggest that those born into wealth can only think and breathe wealthy, but despite all they possess, a moral compass is not one of them. Their varying degrees of awareness of the poor indicates that they are not necessarily ignorant of the social problems happening between home and work, but that ultimately they will side with their own kind and remain the privileged. This is a particularly strong trait of Daisy, who represents perhaps the more na�ve type.
Despite having the capacity to sympathise with Gatsby's cause and even the courage to suggest running away with Gatsby to a life of presumed peasantry, it is clear she would not have been entirely happy living in frugality. Perhaps Gatsby knew this about her given his proven insight into the self-indulging nature of those attending his parties, which is why he knew if they were to be together, he would have to continue his charade as a wealthy pauper. Running away was not an option despite Daisy's optimistic proposal in the garden.
And evidently, during the confrontation scene between Tom, Gatsby and Daisy near the end of the movie, it is not the underground means by which Gatsby gained his wealth that bothered her, but the fact that she doesn't know whether she can completely forget about Tom which caused the hesitation to commit herself to Gatsby. In two lines of dialogue, Gatsby was relegated to an old flame, a 'mistress', a thorn in her romantic nostalgia.
And after Gatsby's outburst, Daisy perhaps had a moment of clarity about herself, realising her allegiance is ultimately with Tom because they are the same 'kind' of people. Even though she yearns for the sincerity, devotion and genuine love that Gatsby can offer her, her need for a problem-free lifestyle proves to trump all else. She yearns for true love, but her blood is rich, which is not the currency of happiness.
Tom demonstrates a different attitude with the poor but ultimately arrived at the same conclusion as Daisy did. He evidently understands his place in society, and implicitly knows what the poor goes through. However, instead of desiring to be a part of their world as Daisy (sort of) does, he simply uses them as a means to experience raw pleasure, something that the wealthy, with all their fabricated sensational parties at the Gatsby mansion, is unable to truly experience.
Tom is racist, sexist, classist, elitist and probably a narcissist, which makes him a bit generic to watch but he does carry weight in every scene, partly because he is Gatsby's greatest opposition, and partly because he is not as oblivious as Daisy. His clarity of the situation with his wife, and acceptance of his role in society gives him confidence to confront Gatsby, to prove an element of superiority the rich has over the poor, which he does successfully. He is never confused, never in denial, and most importantly, he perhaps knows Gatsby better than anyone else in the film, including Carraway (the cousin/narrator).
So between Tom and Daisy, who are essentially the two side of the same gold coin, the derivable conclusion is that those born rich, no matter their personalities, interests and relationships with others, will always be and can only be rich. They have a heart, which is why they can feel jealousy, grief, sympathy and anger, but it doesn't have the same capacity as the poor to be selfless, to be content, to live in uncertainty and be fuelled by hope.
Well, at least that's what I think this film (or the novel) is trying to imply. It's not a very original idea, but I would say it is more articulate than other recent films about the wealthy, and I think it's a bit too surreal and extreme a view to be comparable to reality. (Although people like Gina Rinehart does make my case harder to argue)
This is the golden question I left the cinema thinking about. On the one hand I do feel disgust for how some rich people enjoy their wealth and freedom from daily labour, on the other hand we all strive for that freedom. Even if the moral of the story is that people who earn their wealth are morally superior at the beginning, being part of their world may slowly change you. The poor are not incorruptible, they just have less opportunity to be tempted and lured to the dark side. Myrtle (Tom's mistress in the 'valley of ashes') is an example of this.
But just like this film, if you are willing to overlook the excess and decadence, there is something attractive and fascinating about the world of the upper class, about what life is like after fulfilling Maslow's hierarchy of needs. And the picture is not pretty. You either die seeing the possibility of happiness, or live long enough to be disillusioned by how pointless it all really is.