Nick Carraway, a young Midwesterner now living on Long Island, finds himself fascinated by the mysterious past and lavish lifestyle of his neighbour, the nouveau riche Jay Gatsby. He is ... See full summary »
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
After weighing in on the Boards about this terrific film, it's about time I posted a review, since I do have it on my Top-20 list! I love period-pieces, especially those set in the era of, say, 1918-1938. Hence, 'Eight Men Out', 'Great Gatsby', and 'Sting' are in my Top-20, and, of course, Redford appears in two of those. Redford had the required screen presence, and acting talent to play Gatsby. Those who criticize the film or Redford's interpretation are, to me, just over-analyzing or too caught up in comparisons with the fabulous novel by F. Scott. In addition to superb acting from Redford and a great ensemble cast, the costumes, music and fabulous sets/photography give this flick plenty to recommend.
I have read the book a few times -- I view it as a great American tragedy. But tragedies about larger-than-life characters are not so easy to reproduce on-screen. Anyway, maybe half the viewers haven't read the book; so, for a screenplay writer, it's a dilemma. Maybe *this* particular tragic role - a man who builds fabulous wealth in just a few years, a man who suddenly can compete with the N.Y. aristocracy in attracting the rich and famous to his parties, a man who does it all to reclaim the rich 'jewel' he lost in his youth, a man who gambles it all on one shake of the dice - is, like King Lear, almost too surreal to be performed. Think of it that way, and watch Redford again. He is brilliant. And if you want to see the role messed up, watch A&E's 2004 version. Thirty years to try to improve? And they produce an interpretation of Gatsby I call the 'grinning idiot'.
I've never heard Redford comment on the mixed opinions about his Gatsby portrayal, but I'll guess he knows he got it right, and there wasn't anyone else with the required taste and style to outfit this role. (And as Michael Caine so deftly expressed it in 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels', "Taste and style are commodities that people desire.."). You'd be hard-pressed to name a current American actor with the same charisma (so, you go to the U.K. and get Jude Law or Ralph Fiennes, right?).
I'll touch on the comment of one frustrated IMDb reviewer who wondered why they changed how Nick meets Gatsby. In the movie, Gatsby's compact but sinister bodyguard (who has just decked a guy the size of a Buick) quietly leads Nick upstairs to Gatsby's private study. As soon as Redford appears, we know - and Nick knows - that it's Gatsby. In the book, Nick is having a conversation at a table with an amiable fellow who turns out to be Gatsby! Can you imagine filming a scene with a character chatting with Redford and - surprise - it turns out to be Gatsby? (A&E tried it that way in 2004 - note my 'grinning idiot' comment above). Furthermore, this reference to Gatsby's protective layer helps us to identify his tragic blunder later on: he fires his household help for the sake of privacy once his romance with Daisy blooms. That decision is costly.
The book was described somewhere as a 'story in perfect balance'. In practice, that includes characters that are neither too villainous nor too heroic -- neither too loose (morally) nor too prudish. Our eyes and ears for the story, Nick, probably does not whole-heartedly approve of Tom's fling with Myrtle, but he's not about to blow the whistle on him either. He observes, and goes along for the fun with a crowd that clearly is more prosperous than he is. Later, he has good reason to assist in brokering the romance between Daisy and Gatsby (Nick has a growing friendship with Gatsby - and he is no big fan of Tom). At the same time, he finds Gatsby's affectations a bit annoying - and he only pays him one compliment (at the end - remember? "they're a rotten crowd
you're worth more than the whole lot of them put together").
Anyway, once again, portraying all this on screen is no easy matter. So, relax and enjoy the show, a sparkling period-piece that relates to us a tragic tale about the folly of wealth. Meantime, I will try to track down the 1949 version with Alan Ladd, to see how *they* did! 9/10
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