EMPIRE STATE OF MIND
The Great Gatsby
Review by Steve “WhiskeySour” Brown
Sometimes I believe, in today’s world, art is a concept on the wane. With a modern society obsessed with explosive cinematography, speedy chase scenes and high tension dramas, there seems little room for the minor details. This strikes me as odd because with the size of televisions on the rise, and the introduction of 1080p graphics, detail should be everything.
The difference, I think, is that a truly “artsy” film (and I use the world “artsy” despite my better nature) can only be created by the director. It has little to do with the actual actors who play their parts, or the team of writers who create the story and dialogue, or any one department that works to produce a film. It all has to do with how the director chooses to make these different entities within the film come together and say something collectively.
That’s the rub isn’t it? Art does more then just tell a story, it speaks to the people who listen, it creates in them feelings not there before. In short, it’s dangerous. Dangerous because how it speaks and to whom cannot always be predicted, and sometimes people don’t like what they hear. Art is a risk and in a world designed around creating the quick buck, art is usually too expensive to be bothered with.
Director Baz Luhrmann took on the expense for “The Great Gatsby”, however. The adaptation, based on the clasic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, had a great storyline. Though set in the early 1920’s, the director makes sure to provide plenty of similarities between how people behaved in the 20’s to how people behave today, nearly 100 years later. Though the technology may be less advanced, people back then enjoyed losing themselves in celebration as much as people in the here and now. We also share the same capacity for conceit and selfishness as well as the capabilities for great acts of loyalty and devotion.
This connection was further hammered home with the use of modern music within the film’s soundtrack, a feature I admit to finding slightly jarring the first time. Obviously Jay-Z is not your typical music representative of the 1920’s and it brought me straight out of the movie, as quickly as if I had elastic bands strapped to my torso and someone had fired me in the opposite direction. Though not usually a source of praise from me, as being reminded I am watching a movie is usually not a point in the director’s favor, it did add a rather pleasing sort of temporal symmetry. Once I got used to the fact that the soundtrack had decided to thumb its nose at the mere notion of realism, I found it worked quite well with the film.
Another point I appreciated about this film was it’s use of the camera. Again I find myself in unfamiliar territory. Usually when I even notice the camera, its only to wonder which species of monkey was hired to operate it. I have always worked under the pretense that good camera work is unremarked camera work. This time, however, a couple of the sweeping camera angles caused me to pause and think to myself “that was cool.” My attention to the movie was not distracted for very long, or very often, which I appreciate because it seems to me sweeping camera vistas can be overdone. A birds-eye view does not mean sweeping dive bombs every five minutes, and the camera guys knew this from the start.
My only real complaint about this movie was actually from its actors. For a third time I am treading in unusual ground. I may not have much love for Tobey Maguire (though despite his awful Spider-Man potrayal, I have no real hatred of him ether) I certainly have much respect for Leonardo DiCaprio though, whom I have watched grow into his own since “Titanic”. My real problem was the accents. Accents are a finicky aspect of the acting process. If done well, they blend seamlessly into the movie’s background, making it that much more realistic. However, if off by even a hair, it becomes an irritation. It’s a great deal like adding salt to someone’s food. The proper amount varies from person to person, but when applied properly, it enhances the already existing flavors. If too much is poured, it completely dominates the food and leaves nothing but a bad after taste in ones mouth. It’s definitely one of those tricky aspects to a film where it must be done properly or not at all, since there is little room for error. DiCaprio and Maguire’s accents seemed more an irritation to me then realistic, causing me to wonder if I would have enjoyed the film more if they had discarded them all together.
All in all, “The Great Gatsby” was a solid film. They say the devil is in the details, and it certainly was with this film. The storyline, the music, even the camera work all came together to do more then just provide a couple of hours entertainment, it provided something to think about. It provided a movie that can be examined at multiple angles, love it or hate it, it does have its own voice from which it speaks. The question is only what does it say to you?
Directed by: Baz Lurhmann
Release Date: May 10, 2013
Run Time: 142 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures