The Great Gatsby: Classic story works, but it goes overboard

Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comMay 9, 2013 

I thought I read The Great Gatsby in high school. Before seeing the film, I thought a brush-up was in order and read the book. Why not? It's short at just 180 pages. After I got into the book, I realized Gatsby is a book I was "supposed" to read in high school and didn't.

My loss.

You already know the book is fabulous. It's a great American masterpiece and F. Scott Fitzgerald's ode to the golden age of jazz and prohibition. The book, and Baz Luhrmann's movie, follow snobby, shallow characters with old money and compare them to snobby, shallow characters with new money. It portrays the period as a time of great prosperity. It also shows off America's propensity to walk on the wild side.

To flash back to those days is an interesting trip, and Fitzgerald's novel is an incredible piece of storytelling. After you see the movie, do yourself a favor and read the book if you haven't. It's one of the best I've read.

Luhrmann casts Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. It's an odd choice. All you really know about his physical features is that Gatsby had a killer smile. DiCaprio doesn't. It's also hard to watch him constantly use the term "old sport" to address someone. The words don't fit the face.

It's not his fault. DiCaprio, like Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Joel Edgerton (Warrior) and the other actors, falls victim to Luhrmann and Craig Pearce's poorly crafted script. None of the lines done fits the faces of the actors.

That's not really a complaint. Saying this is a bad movie is to say the CliffsNotes version of Gatsby is a bad read. The story is incredible, so it's easy to say the much-maligned Cliff got it right. So do Luhrmann and Pearce. They alter the story a tad but basically follow Fitzgerald's plot. The only flaw is the presentation of the story -- like CliffsNotes, it's in chunks.

Luhrmann's production is a whole other subject. The book labors over Gatsby's parties to end all parties. It talks about the throngs attending, but there isn't much in the way of detail. Tuning into the mind of his film's vain but empty main character, Luhrmann takes great liberties with Fitzgerald's prose.

While there is too much emphasis on partying, strangely Luhrmann's take on the parties works. For the music at the parties, he replaces the wonderful jazz of that age with a blend of rap, hip-hop and jazz. Strangely, it works and helps define the empty lives of Jay Gatsby and the story's other main characters.

Luhrmann is a craftsman when it comes to cinematography and the use of visual effects. Like Moulin Rouge! and his first pop hit, Romeo + Juliet from 1996, Luhrmann has a blast with the the camera and special effects. The drawback is that it gives Fitzgerald's deep and thoughtful piece of literature a cartoonlike vision and ultimately turns The Great Gatsby into The Great Glitzby.

The Great Gatsby

Director: Baz Lurhmann

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars

Rated PG-13 for mature themes, some violence. It's playing at Regal's Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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