The Great Gatsby by Baz Luhrmann

The Great Gatsby by Baz Luhrmann

An adaptation of the classic novel by F. Scott Fitgerald, a Midwesterner becomes fascinated with his nouveau riche neighbor, who obsesses over his lost love.

I had a fear that watching this movie before having a solid memory of the original novel will taint my mind’s eye of the original story. I read the original novel in high school but don’t have a distinct memory of it. So before watching the movie, I reread the original novel. So on with the review…

The film starts off blasting at full volume and ramps it up to maximum for its entire first act. Fortunately, Luhrmann does takes a step back and tones down for the latter two-thirds and lets his actors do their magic. The film is well-casted. The actors are playing Fitgerald’s character descriptions exactly to a tee.

Leonardo DiCaprio chooses to play Gatsby as a hopeless romantic with a big dream. He’s able to find a lot of depth to the character without going to darkness and projects the necessary charm. A darker approach to playing Gatsby that would be equally legitimate and interesting. For all the times he has tried to cover his baby-faced looks with facial hair, Leonardo DiCaprio plays young here. In my favorite sequence where Gatsby reunites with Daisy, DiCaprio feels and acts like a young trepid boy who hasn’t imagined a life beyond his grand vision. The lack of an alternate choice in Gatsby’s eyes is such a stark contrast to when he’s playing host in his parties. Give him an Oscar, he’s earned it so many times now.

Carey Mulligan plays to my image of Daisy from the novel, the light empty way Daisy carries herself and particularly the way she speaks. Mulligan’s Daisy says things just to say them but does not necessarily believes the meaning in her words. Joel Edgerton plays a convincing jerk as Tom Buchanan, and it’s played in a way where we can see Tom’s side of things as well.

Tobey Maguire has a natural kindness to him that makes his Nick Carraway a believable third wheel and keeper of everybody’s secrets. The narrations start a bit awkwardly, but they get better as they go on. I didn’t like that Luhrmann cut off the opening paragraph from the novel. Luhrmann could have helped the actors a lot more by giving them more space to breathe out the scenes. He’s directed them to speaking very quickly and constantly overlapping each other. That said, the best dramatic parts of the novel are retained. The actors are what ultimately save the film from spiraling out of control.

There’s been a common complaint about the use of modern hip hop music in the film. Let me say that the hip hop music did not bother me. Why? Luhrmann isn’t concerned of the story’s historical context or presenting the class conditions that the original novel was addressing, but rather re-energizing this classic story with a post-modern sensibility. There’s no way to take Luhrmann’s world completely seriously as a real-life depiction of America in the 1920’s. The world presented in the film has a texture akin to a Jay-Z hip hop music video that happens to have a Great Gatsby theme running through it. If you think about it for a minute, life did not move as quickly back then as this film depicts. Nobody conversed or drived their automobiles at light speed. A sports convertible back in the day wouldn’t have roared like the Batmobile.

Luhrmann is not operating in terms of reality, but hyperreality. He’s punctuating the story purely in terms of emotional states. It’s as if the director is pondering, “How does Nick Carraway feel the moment he meets Jay Gatsby? How can I make that feel like a nuclear explosion?” “What now would equally communicate the materialistic excess in 1920’s New York? Gangster rap!” So in that light, I rather enjoyed the soundtrack. Ultimately, the film remains Luhrmann’s interpretation of Fitgerald’s novel, not a definitive film interpretation of its literary source. Being aware of Luhrmann’s stamp is important to truly enjoying this film. Perhaps the novel is such a classic, a definitive film version of The Great Gatsby probably is not possible. Similar to a Kenneth Branagh Shakespeare film adaptation where the literary source is open to a director’s individual interpretation and is passed on from author to author. Fitzgerald’s novel is tight and well-written enough that it can allow multiple filmic interpretations.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. For my purposes, I’m glad that I reread the book first. I may have to check out the Robert Redford version now.

Warrior by Gavin O’Connor

Warrior (2011 film)

Warrior by Gavin O’Connor

I have a confession to make: I love martial arts. I love martial arts movies. There’s nothing more primal than watching two people beating the shit out of each other. Warrior is a movie that understands this but earns that fun legitimately through the three lead performances. It works on these two levels.

Joel Edgerton brings genuine goodness to the film. His character Brendan Conlon is formerly-failed MMA fighter turned school teacher, the bank is taking his house and now he is fighting in the cage to keep his family together. And through being motivated by family, he becomes a better fighter. You root for him. You want him to win.

I’ve never seen Nick Nolte so raw and completely naked playing this broken old man trying to repair his regrets. The Nick Nolte-isms do not shortcut him. He’s earned that Oscar nomination, though I don’t think he’ll win this year.

Here’s why I think Tom Hardy is a great actor: he acts with his entire body. No, I’m not talking about his deltoids (though “Tom Hardy’s deltoids” completely earn another independent credit in this movie). It’s an fine-tuned, equally internal and external performance. Notice the way he grunts, the weight in his walk, how he speaks under his breath and the way he glares his eyes like he’s going to lose it any second. He’s not even human in this movie. He is a mythic beast. Let’s just say, the bat will be broken.

The fights themselves are exciting to watch because of four aesthetic reasons, 1) The drama works. We care. 2) The actors are doing it. The camera doesn’t do anything to hide a stuntman. 3) The fights happen in film time, not real time. They’re editing on dramatic beats. They’re not sticking to how real MMA fights play out, which most of the time is people hugging each other on the ground. (If you’ve seen Never Back Down, you know what I’m talking about.) They’re presented in a realistic fashion with the boring parts omitted. 4) You feel the pain of these fights. On a side note, I also enjoyed the dual training montage sequence. They’re acknowledging the origin of the DNA strain (uh.. Rocky, anybody?) and trying to evolve it into something of their own. I appreciated that.

This was probably the most fun I’ve had watching a movie this year. I have a soft spot for it.

That said, I’m a little jealous that Joel Edgerton pulled off a flying armbar. That took me months!