Entertainment Movies

Entertainment Entertainment Movies

'The Great Gatsby' review: Underwhelming state of mind

** (out of four)

For all the exaggerated rumors swirling about Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), you’d think he was Chuck Norris. He's a German spy! He kills for fun! He's richer than God!

Does he also pay his bills with a roundhouse kick to a bank vault?

A main point of F. Scott Fitzgerald's arguably overrated Jazz Age classic “The Great Gatsby” is that Gatsby's not the enigma he appears to be. He's merely a man in love with the past and his past love, Daisy (Carey Mulligan). The film’s co-writer and director, Baz Luhrmann, reveals the man behind the curtain too early to allow Gatsby to achieve the proper wonder.

“Gatsby” is actually Nick Carraway's (Tobey Maguire) story, something I always found unfortunate considering he's mostly a bland, judge-y spectator. The film unfolds as Nick, in a sanitarium due to his being, among other things, “morbidly alcoholic,” recalls the eventful summer of 1922 he spent hanging with his cousin Daisy, her cheating husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton), and, eventually, his next-door neighbor Gatsby, who throws parties so lavish and exciting that, well, Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge”) wanted to bring them to life.

Neither DiCaprio (Luhrmann's “Romeo and Juliet”), an actor prone to serious material hinging on emotional explosion, nor Maguire (“Pleasantville”), Hollywood's resident wuss, is an inspired casting choice. I'd have picked Michael Fassbender to play Gatsby and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Nick. Even then, though, Luhrmann would be stifled by questionable motivations when scenes don't include dancing and drinking to anachronistic music from Jay-Z (who executive produced), Beyonce/Mrs. Jay-Z or Lana Del Rey. Those choices are fine--at least Luhrmann didn't acknowledge Gatsby's devotion to Daisy with Bryan Adams' “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”--since the foolishly 3-D “Gatsby” depicts a world in which unhappiness lives beneath glitz and prosperity. The filmmaker is justified in looking for a contemporary connection.

Yet in a different way than the also-unsuccessful 1974 adaptation starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, this remedial “Gatsby” fails to depict a tragic, star-crossed story of a great love torn away by timing and financial priorities. We never see what Daisy saw in Tom nor understand where she's at when forced between her past and current men. It's unclear why Nick so admires Gatsby's hopefulness when Nick barely emotes himself. Frequently Nick's superfluous narration (“Something told me it was Mr. Gatsby; he seemed to be reaching toward something out there in the dark”) tells us what we can clearly see.

Lacking much pep in its step, the film isn't so much style over substance (like the pathetic “Gangster Squad”) as an inability to access material rather than merely paste it to the screen. Occasionally “Gatsby” captures the power of unburdened love and the suffocating nature of hidden agendas among friends and lovers. Still, in an age when detached fame and manufactured personas have become so transparently phony, an unexpectedly lonely icon of wealth and success hardly registers as profound.

“Gatsby” asks if we can retrieve the past, but the film's own failings serve as the greatest proof to the contrary.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.

 

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Bold predictions for Lolla 2015

    Bold predictions for Lolla 2015

    The Lolla schedule is sort of like the NCAA tournament: there are millions of possible combinations, and it’s anyone’s guess what the winning picks will be. With that in mind, we make some bold predictions about how this year’s fest (returning to Grant Park Fri.-Sun.) will turn out. Breakout artist...

  • 2010 killing of Chicago cop detailed at trial; man claims self-defense

    2010 killing of Chicago cop detailed at trial; man claims self-defense

    The man on trial in the killing of Chicago police Officer Thor Soderberg hated police and surprised the officer as he changed out of his uniform at shift end and placed his duty belt down, a Cook County prosecutor alleged Monday.

  • Aldermen to hold hearing on untested rape kits

    Aldermen to hold hearing on untested rape kits

    Chicago aldermen on Monday called on police officials to provide information on how quickly rape kits are being tested by the state crime lab, part of a largely symbolic effort to determine whether a large backlog is hampering work to apprehend rapists.

  • Alderman's 'Chi-raq' criticism falls flat

    Alderman's 'Chi-raq' criticism falls flat

    A South Side alderman's effort to tweak filmmaker Spike Lee for using "Chi-raq" as the title for a movie about Chicago violence fell flat Monday with his colleagues.

  • ComEd to hold energy fairs to help low-income customers

    ComEd to hold energy fairs to help low-income customers

    Commonwealth Edison will hold energy fairs at satellite locations across the region Monday in order to get money to thousands of people struggling to pay their electricity bills in northern Illinois.

  • PAWS Chicago "Muttshots!"

    PAWS Chicago "Muttshots!"

    These adorable pups are on the loose looking for a place to call home. They have a warrant out for their arrest. Their crime? Being irresistibly cute and cuddly. If you're interested in adopting any of these dogs, please visit www.pawschicago.org for more information.

Comments
Loading

76°