THE GREAT GATSBY
**1/2 (out of 5)
May 10, 2013
Leonardo DiCaprio as JAY GATSBY
Tobey Maguire as NICK CARRAWAY
Carey Mulligan as DAISY BUCHANAN
Joel Edgerton as TOM BUCHANAN
Elizabeth Debicki as JORDAN BAKER
Isla Fisher as MYRTLE WILSON
Jason Clarke as GEORGE B. WILSON
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Though I have been an avid reader and writer all of my life, I loathed most of the books they made us read in school. Call it typical youth rebellion, but I just wasn’t interested in what the teachers told me was good literature. This attitude wasn’t a surprise for my teenage self since the most recent thing I had read in school was J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” (which I hated), and that was 35 years old when I begrudgingly read it.
I also suffered through “The Scarlet Letter,” leaving the only book that I had any interest in to be “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which was far more readable than many of the others.
For some reason, I escaped reading “The Great Gatsby” in high school. I never picked it up since then, either. So while many film fans and the like know where this story comes from, I came in cold. And the big thing that drew me to this 2013 adaptation was Baz Luhrmann. I was eager to see what a spectacle he could put on for this show.
With all the glitz and glamour of Luhrmann’s style is stripped away, “The Great Gatsby” is not much more than a 1920s soap opera. There are polarizing characters as the idle rich in the roaring 20s. There’s a love triangle. There’s a mentor/protege fascination subtext. Much like “Moulin Rouge!,” this film has a relatively common story at its core.
It’s propelled by Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who is visiting his cousin in New York. There, he gets swept up in the excitement of a local millionaire named Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who throws lavish parties every night. Their fast friendship soon reveals to be a relationship with a purpose. Gatsby wants Nick to help him reconnect with his old flame Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), who is married to the jealous but philandering Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).
The acting is good, with solid performances all around. DiCaprio commands the screen as Gatsby, but he still manages to share the spotlight with his co-stars. It’s Gatsby’s story, but it’s Nick’s movie, and Tobey Maguire plays the wallflower well, bringing the characters through the film.
As far as stories go, this is not necessarily my cup of tea, but I can’t exactly blame this on Luhrmann. If I take issue with this being just another story of rich, young people making bad decisions, that blame falls on F. Scott Fitzgerald.
But the glue the holds the picture together is the presentation that Lurhmann delivers. Like “Moulin Rouge!,” “The Great Gatsby” has some awesome imagery and a pulse-pounding soundtrack. It offers you a reason to see this in a theater in sizzling 3D.
If you plan to make a trek to the theater to see this, be sure to choose a location that will properly project the picture. With modern projector systems with a push-button control system, a union projectionist is sometimes nowhere to be seen, and as HAL-9000 will tell you, a lot can happen with human error.
At the press screening I attended, “The Great Gatsby” was out of focus, washed out and too dark. I don’t know what caused it (and why would I, since I’m not a projectionist or a technician), but I know what the end result was. This substandard projection had a very negative impact on how I saw the film. Amid eye strain and squinting, I had a rough time with the movie. The shots – of which there are many – that should have been breathtaking were annoying because it was like looking through a film of Vaseline. The CGI cityscapes of New York were soft, and the bright lights of Times Square were fuzzy spots.
I’ll give Luhrmann the benefit of the doubt that he made an awesome looking film. Unfortunately, I wasn’t given the opportunity to see it.
Let that be a lesson to everyone to have high standards when seeing a movie. If you think something is wrong with the movie’s look, track down a manager and let them know. I wanted to like this movie more, and perhaps a later viewing in a different theater or on Blu-ray will prove better. However, as it stands, the murky visuals I saw (and likely many people across the country in movie houses with sub-par projection) isn’t enough to raise the quality to where it should be.