Our rating: 2 out of 5
reviewed by: Charity Bishop
There are few films I loathe so completely as this one. Most of the world's classics are pathetic pieces of somber literature with a morbid interest in death and the battles of the heart. The Great Gatsby is no exception. A&E does a beautiful job bringing it in all its chilling depth to the screen, but it's not worth the hour and a half spent on it.
Nick (Paul Rudd) is a former military private just returned from overseas. Having rented a villa on the east shore not more than fifteen miles away from his wealthy, beautiful and mistreated cousin Daisy (Mira Sorvino), he finds himself drawn into the strange mystery surrounding 'Gatsby.' This popular young man whom no one knows the story of throws great parties. But who is he truly? Daisy's marriage to a financially-secure older businessman is, not surprisingly, unhappy. Her husband is regularly involved with women on the mainland; his latest fling is a the wife of an unsuspecting car repairman. It's about this time that Nick is introduced to Jay Gatsby (Toby Stephens) at one of his infamous parties, a whirlwind of drinking, laughter, and frivolity. As Nick confides in the viewer, "Few people are actually invited to Gatsby's parties. Most people just show up there."
Gatsby proves to be a likable scoundrel whose real intention is to be introduced to Daisy. Apparently the two were involved before Gatsby was called overseas to fight in the war. She, believing that he would never come back, married Tom Buchanan... and Gatsby has been searching for her ever since. Nick believes that their meeting would be beneficial in cheering up his cousin's lethargic mood... but then realizes that he may have set in motion a series of tragic events that will seal the fate of Gatsby and his beautiful former fianc forever.
Having never read the book, I had no prior knowledge going in as to just what The Great Gatsby was all about. I found that the story was full of infidelity, irresponsible characters, and constant cover-ups of illegal and immoral deeds. No Christian in their right mind would find it tolerable, much less entertaining. Toby Stephens' performance as Gatsby is brilliant. I've never seen him more charismatic on screen; he somehow makes his character likable, even though we hate what he has become. The back-up cast are also excellent, particularly Mira Sorvino... I can see why she won an Oscar early on in her career. The film is set in the roaring thirties, with lots of swing dancing, drunken parties, and flashy automobiles... but it feels empty. Emotions are restrained although they spill out over the scenes in poignant colors.
Wisely, A&E has kept sexual content to a minimum but there's enough implication... married people slipping away with old flames, kissing, etc... to give the film a adulterous feeling. I was also shocked at the brutal violence shown in the last half. A woman is slapped in anger by her boyfriend and comes away with a bloodied nose. Later a horrific scene is shown where a person is hit by a car and run over; we see the bloody, bruised body several times, as well as the actual impact and stomach-turning shot of the wheels battering her along the road. Bloodied bullet holes are shown on two occasions, one in the chest, the other a head wound. Immoral activity includes covering up embezzling scams, illegal bank notes, and theft. A murderer (even if it was involuntary manslaughter) gets off Scott free. There's nothing great about The Great Gatsby after all.