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The Great Gatsby - Movie review from a dieselpunk perspective

The Great Gatsby

Hello, old sport. Have I seen The Great Gatsby? But of course! It’s simply the talk of the town, and anybody who’s anyone was there at the premiere.

Let me say that Baz Luhrmann, the director of this shindig, really knows how to throw a party. His bombastic style is the perfect technicolor stage for a story about the 1920s. I didn’t want to miss a beat, so I re-read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of obsession just last week. Like most people, I originally read the story in high school, but I’ve also had the pleasure of reading Trimalchio, Fitzgerald’s first-pass at the Gatsby story, sometime in 2002. If the high school book was the masterpiece, then Trimalchio is the unedited director’s cut. With my brain fully loaded with hype, I was ready to slap on a pair of 3D glasses at my local IMAX.

That’s not entirely true. As a marketing professional, I’m pretty jaded. I know that movies are movies and books are books, and I know that other celebrated directors like Francis Ford Coppola have run this gamut before and failed. That set the bar a little lower for my expectations, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was walking into.

Let me reassure you all that it didn’t disappoint. The movie ran true to the story with the exception of two minor elements that, if anything, enhanced the pacing of the film. The first act introduces us to the narrator, the main characters, and the decadence of a setting that could only be described as a rap video as shot with rich white folks in the ‘20s. The second act drives the suspense with quite a few moving moments, and the third act concludes with a gunshot. I would enjoy seeing it again, and I would recommend the 3D version. It doesn’t add too much to the storytelling, but the movie was shot in 3D (not converted after-the-fact) and there quite a few elements that benefit from the effect that wouldn’t translate well to 2D.

I might even go as far as saying I prefer the movie to the book, because the movie’s visual style clarifies some pieces that Fitzgerald glosses over due to his lack of first-hand experience (speakeasies) and the narrative limitations of the time period (love scenes).

All of the actors stayed very true to their characters, and Joel Edgerton’s portrayal of the racist, cheating asshole Tom Buchanan was so sympathetic it actually gave me a new angle to the story I hadn’t thought of before. The women were simply angelic, especially newcomer Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker. Although a minor character, I was completely mesmerized whenever she appeared.

The soundtrack was almost entirely new work, mixing a blend of electroswing, hip hop, and modern pop artists like Lana Del Rey, Jay Z (who also doubled as a executive producer), and Florence & The Machine. There were a few fitting period songs, but you won’t see them on the CD. While you might cringe at the line-up, the most modern tunes are only used briefly as background music with few exceptions, making the whole thing gel together quite well. You have to give it to a guy like Baz Luhrmann for pushing the dieselpunk style in his own way.

Here there be spoilers.

How different is it from the book? The movie starts and ends with a book-end narrative where Nick is writing Gatsby’s tale as therapy. Since the events of the tale, he’s fallen into depression and alcoholism, and his therapist suggests getting his thoughts out on paper. This is very minor (5-10 minutes at most), and adds a narrative cushion to the story’s framework so we’re not instantly thrown into the chaos of the Roaring Twenties. It’s not needed in a book, but it works in the movie. The other major detail is that Jay’s dad does not appear at the end of the story. This part of the epilogue was probably cut to keep the movie from dragging after the finale, but it does feel significant enough to mention. There are a few other trivial things, but they’re not missed.

4 out of 5 stars

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Comment by Larry on May 14, 2013 at 10:02pm

I see it as a tragedy. The characters had built themselves a world made of tin foil. It was shiny and pretty but it was inevitable that a some point it would come crashing down around them. Shakespeare would have approved.

Comment by Tome Wilson on May 14, 2013 at 8:29pm

Thank you, sir.

So, I have to ask.  Do you see this as a love story, a tragedy, a story told from the villain's point of view, or something else, because every time I go through the story, I see it in a different light.

Comment by Larry on May 14, 2013 at 8:13pm

Excellent review, Tome.

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