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Nick Carraway, a young Midwesterner now living on Long Island, finds himself fascinated by the mysterious past and lavish lifestyle of his neighbor, the nouveau riche Jay Gatsby. He is drawn into Gatsby's circle, becoming a witness to obsession and tragedy. Written by
A worthy adaptation of Fitzgerald's novel, with only the really necessary drawbacks.
The Great Gatsby is a book that is very much expected to be made into a movie, and has been adapted several times before this one. It is an intricate story that entails an enormous amount of meaning and significance to society, but the literary version is not one that is capable of being adapted into a film that can capture the entire effect, because so much of the quality of The Great Gatsby lies in the words that are used in the novel, the way things are described, the way people think, etc. This can never be completely transferred to film, and this version of Gatsby leaves out a huge amount of the language and even unnecessarily changes several important scenes.
I have heard Robert Redford criticized for fitting the upper-class half of Gatsby's personality too closely and not capturing his darker side well enough, but this is a completely superficial argument. It's true that Redford looks right at home in Gatsby's mansion and his clothes and everything, but it's also true that he walks through the entire movie as though he's not quite sure where he is or how he got there and, above all, that he's nervous about something that he's done or is about to do. I can understand someone thinking that Redford doesn't look like a bad enough guy to play Gatsby, but if there is any problem with him portraying Gatsby's darker side, it's probably more a result of the fact that so much of his hidden dealings are hidden or removed from the film than any weakness on the part of Redford's performance or his appearance in the role. We see one suspicious phone conversation and we realize his intentions with Daisy and how he came to be where he is, but this is told rather than shown.
Mia Farrow gives a satisfactory performance as Daisy, although she does not capture many of Daisy's characteristics from the novel, most importantly, I think, the stunning beauty of the sort that would cause a man like Gatsby to spend several years completely transforming his life and becoming filthy rich (and becoming a criminal while he's at it), only to keep his mind occupied with thoughts of Daisy despite all his money and the fact that his ocean-side mansion is constantly crawling with celebrities and beautiful people. Daisy has to be a ridiculously beautiful woman to justify that kind of behavior, or else Gatsby would have to at least be a completely obsessive nutcase. Neither is true.
Farrow's shortcomings as Daisy are hugely overshadowed, however, by the character of Tom Buchanan, who is changed from a `hulking brute of a man' in the novel to a tall and skinny guy who only has the slow intellect and harsh jealousy toward Gatsby from his character in the novel. Bruce Dern is hugely miscast in this role, but does a decent job going through the motions of his character, at least the verbal ones that he's given. Sam Waterson probably gives the best performance in the film as Nick Carraway, although there is something of an awkward feel with his character if only because he is the narrator in the film, telling the story through his own eyes, while in the film he is an external character and the vast majority of his internal thoughts are necessarily erased.
More than the performances, however, there are some scenes that are changed from the novel that just shouldn't have been. I can understand changing or reducing a scene or some dialogue here and there (although in the case of a classic novel like this, changing anything is almost always a dangerous proposition), but there were some scenes that were very important in the novel, either to the story or to the process of characterization or anything else, that were changed for no good reason and with no good affect.
The introduction of the characters of Tom, Daisy and Jordan, and most importantly, Gatsby himself were enormously altered for the film, for no apparent reason. Tom has a self-involved introduction in the novel where he introduces himself to Nick by making a comment on his own success, Daisy and Jordan are introduced sitting carelessly in the gigantic living room at Tom and Daisy's house amidst an atmosphere the likes of which no film is likely to reproduce, and Gatsby, most of all, has a wonderful introduction where he is sitting talking to Nick at one of his parties, and Nick casually mentions that he has been invited by some man named Gatsby that he's never met or even seen. Gatsby looks at him in surprise, saying, `I'M Gatsby.'
This is the perfect way to introduce Gatsby as a man with the means to put on a social event of this caliber but without a clue in the moon about how to interact with his guests. Rather than this simple introduction, however, Nick is approached by one of Gatsby's servers and asked to come upstairs. This is a creepy scene which makes Nick feel nervous as though he's in trouble (which is understandable since the man who approached him won't say a word and gives him a sly smile here and there as though Nick's the enemy and he's being taken prisoner by the mob boss).
Nick gets upstairs and Gatsby is standing alone in a room looking out over his party, and there follows a creepy scene in which Gatsby stumbles over his words trying to introduce himself, and no a scrap of his joviality is captured from the novel. In the book, Gatsby is a man who doesn't know the social rules of his parties but is glad to have a grand old time with Nick even though they'd never met, while in the movie he nervously stumbles through plans to go out boating the next day, leaving Nick to stand there still not quite sure what he's supposed to do.
I watched this version of The Great Gatsby just after watching the 1993 version of The Secret Garden, which is a film that takes a magical novel and makes a wonderful film out of it, but only really captures the basics of it, the necessary parts that are needed to have the film present the story and make sense. This version of The Great Gatsby is similar in that it is an enjoyable film that captures the story of the novel, but because of the richness of the language used in the book and some of the things that were, for some reason, changed for no apparent reason other than to be different from the original text, it doesn't capture the same experience as the novel.
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