Leonardo DiCaprio revealed Jay Gatsby to me even more than the five reads I did of Fitzgerald’s novel. Every gesture, smile, frown, tear! And Carrie Mulligan did the same for me with Daisy Buchanan. She was just the right degree of vulnerable and egocentric, but still somehow loveable. But Tobey McGuire as Nick Caraway? Come on! When he played Spiderman, the audience became hysterical laughing when he cried. Nick Caraway wasn’t supposed to be a complete dork, was he? Who do you think should have been cast in that role? Remember how great Sam Waterloo (the D.A. in the old Law & Order SVU) was as Nick in the 1974 version? Robert Redford was a bland Gatsby in that one, but Sam Waterloo was perfect.
The film begins with the same hyped up techno feel as Moulin Rouge which captures, I think, the spirit of the roaring twenties. As the film goes on, the special effects become more subtle. Wait until you see the green light softly blinking in the night sky and reflecting on The Long Island Sound. Maybe the Eyes of God in the optician’s billboard is hammered over our head too much, and Nick Caraway being in a sanitarium feels over-the-top (especially as played by McGuire.) Really, did filmmakers Luhrmann and Pearce have to make so much of Nick Caraway writing The Great Gatsby, even deciding to add “The Great” to the title at the last moment? And how hilarious that to be politically correct, Amitabh Bachchan from India is cast as the crooked Jew, Meyer Wolfsheim, He’s even called a “kike.” Maybe Bachchan had to ask, “Pardon me, what is a kike?”
No Gatsby purist will be able to tolerate this movie, but it has so much to recommend it that the audience applauded loudly at the end and almost nobody left before the last credit rolled.
The message of hope which makes Gatsby one of the great American novels is proven out in the life of its producer, Jay Z, who was born in the notorious Marcy Housing Projects in Bed Stuy. Jay Z carved out a small part for himself. Look for him the way you might Alfred Hitchcock in one of his thrillers. Beyonce’s music throbs through the background. Whether you were a lit major or not, relax and let yourself enjoy this flawed and fabulous film.