Reviewer: Charity Bishop
I'll admit it up front -- I've never liked The Great Gatsby. It's a morality tale that tells through its lack of morality, a story full of damaged people living out purposeless lives. It's part tragic love story and part exploration of the meaninglessness of an existence without God. That's not what draws secular audiences to it, but it is the message you walk away with as a believer. That being said, this is the only adaptation I've ever seen that made me like the characters and invest in their lives... even knowing the ending.
Idealistic young Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) has given up his dreams of becoming a writer and moved into a small house on the beach for the summer, to study up and become a serious player on Wall Street. Next door, in an impressive house, lives the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) -- an eccentric host that throws lavish parties that any and everyone attend (usually without invitation) but that is rarely seen in person. That is, until Nick receives a personal invitation. He is rapidly fascinated with this elusive millionaire and perplexed by his behavior, while at the same time finding him disgusted at the life his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) is forced to live across the lake. Her famous husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) has at least one mistress on the side, leaving her miserable.
And then, Nick is persuaded to invite Daisy over for lunch so that Gatsby can drop in. This begins to unravel a shared past that will influence them all in unexpected and tragic ways. Putting the storyline aside, this is a gorgeous film -- beautifully staged and photographed, every moment of it a lush visual masterpiece. Some critics find the modern music jarring but in a way it seems to tie the modern audience to the earlier period and remind them that in spite of our differences, that lavish, carefree lifestyle isn't hard to understand. The cast is almost perfect, particularly Carey Mulligan. I doubted her as a choice until she entered the screen -- all beauty and innocence and heartbreak, the ideal Daisy.
For those who haven't read the novel and don't know what happens with these characters, prepare yourself for emotional turmoil, hidden secrets to rise to the surface, and a few unexpected twists that reveal the emotional complexities of these figures... Daisy is torn between the life she wants to lead and the life she already lives, between two men who both frighten and entice her. Gatsby, by contrast, is desperate to win back something he can't fully have, at least not under his terms. It's easy to question the method of telling the story, but I found the approach refreshing. It doesn't intrude too often, just enough to remind us of the narrator's life.
There are things I didn't like about the production... some of the earlier scenes are sleazy to contrast Daisy's sweetness with her husband's cheating lifestyle, and of course, the fact that the story is so empty -- an emptiness that illustrates a point (money can't buy you love), but it's still emptiness. But it was good enough to convince me to watch it again in the future, and considering my dislike of the story, that's a remarkable achievement.
A man overhears a man and a woman having sex; we see a lot of scantily clad girls in the apartment and at dinner parties; a flashback has a man kissing a woman while laying on top of her (he pulls the strap of her gown down to kiss her neck); a brief sex scene with kissing and movement, within the context of an adulterous affair.
A man slaps a woman hard enough to knock her to the ground; a man grabs another man and threatens to punch him; a woman is graphically hit by a car (she flips up over the hood, smashes the windshield, and lands dead); a man is shot in the chest.
Extra-marital affairs are the norm for these wealthy men and their wives; mentions of mistresses. The audience is asked to root for an adulterous affair. There's a lot of drinking (it leads to characters getting drunk) and some smoking.