At the Movies: The Great Gatsby

I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great Gatsby” in high school. Or maybe college. I remember reading it for a class. I remember nothing about what it was about. I remember the book cover. Blue with piercing eyes staring out at you. That was memorable.

I saw the 1974 film version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow at some point. I remember nothing about what it was about.

I bring this up because today I will be talking about the latest film adaptation of “Gatsby” by director Baz Luhrmann and I’m letting you know upfront that I will not be comparing it to the novel or the earlier movie. Even though I’ve read and watched both.

new-great-gatsby-posterOdds are 30 years from now I won’t remember the plot of this version either, but I will probably remember that it was very, very pretty. Because the number one selling point of this latest take on “The Great Gatsby” is not a talented cast or compelling story or hip soundtrack — it’s the gorgeous, dazzling visuals.

Let’s get through the plot synopsis quickly before I forget. Tobey Maguire stars as Nick Carraway, a young man new to 1920s New York. He’s working as a bond broker and living in a small house in the shadow of a vast estate owned by the mysterious and wealthy (and mysteriously wealthy) Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Gatsby’s home is a 24-hour party palace where the elite — and not so elite — love to drink, dance and be seen. Carraway receives a personal invitation to one of Gatsby’s shindigs where he meets the man himself and they become friends.

But Gatsby isn’t simply being neighborly. He’s also using Carraway to get at his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), an old flame. Gatsby wants to reconnect with his former love, despite her being married to wealthy but not particularly faithful Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

“Great” isn’t a word I’d use to describe the story of Jay Gatsby. Maybe it was groundbreaking when it was written in 1925 but it’s not that impressive today. Maybe that’s why I keep forgetting it. Still, it’s told well and the actors are fine, although I had a hard time buying DiCaprio as the sort of person who uses the term “Old Sport” a lot.

But it’s easy to give the film’s flaws a pass when you’re caught up in the immersive visual spectacle. The sets, costumes, cars and cinematography are the main selling points of Baz Luhrmann’s “Gatsby” and what give it any sense of greatness.

“The Great Gatsby” is available in 3D and despite the movie’s emphasis on style and images, the 3D doesn’t enhance it enough for me to recommend the extra cost it adds to a ticket.

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