First Look At “The Great Gatsby”

As an undergraduate studying English, I found out quickly that the trailer has been released for Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

Several of my friends posted it on Facebook and Tumblr. I flipped open my laptop an hour ago. Since then I’ve been mulling over what I’ve seen. I try not to judge films based on their trailers. But for right now, this trailer is the best resource I have to do the judging.

This trailer promises a big, loud, flashy movie. I am therefore excited. That’s exactly the kind of thing that you want when you’re trying to tell Gatsby’s story. Gatsby threw himself into the Roaring Twenties, holding fast to its excitement and excesses to win back his former love. The array of dazzling dresses, frolicking crowds, and bright lights that we see in this trailer brings across that fantasy very well.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby doesn’t match up so far with the Gatsby I know. When he stands in front of Daisy, his face looks hardened. He doesn’t look like a tentative lover; he looks like scowling Dom Cobb from Inception. This seems to be a change of pace from Inception, Shutter IslandThe Departed, and other dark roles that Leonardo has had in recent years. His performance as Gatsby doesn’t call for that darkness, but I’m not sure that it calls for the bright youth we saw in Titanic or Romeo and Juliet.

I would have been more reassured to see him doing more than looking mysterious and/or distressed. I wanted to see him shaking hands and smiling broadly. Gatsby needs to explode with confidence and charisma until he meets Daisy again. One of the most important lines in the novel is this, “So the whole caravansary had fallen in like a card house at the disapproval in her eyes.” That’s Nick Carraway’s first thought after hearing that Gatsby fires all of his servants, starting to withdraw from his former parties. That will be the key point when I evaluate DiCaprio’s performance.

Tobey Maguire looks forgettable as Nick Carraway. Of course, his character is inevitably forgettable in the rush of parties that we see in the trailer. It will take the feature-length film to see how he holds up. Tobey has the face and the voice for meek, nonjudgmental Nick Carraway. But he can’t simply be meek. He has his own intensity that surfaces at times. What emotions will we see on Tobey’s face when he rejects Jordan Baker? There needs to be anger and disgust in that scene. I hope he can project that.

The rest of the cast intrigues me as well. Daisy is quiet in the trailer. She’s a bubbly, spoiled, and ultimately unhappy character. There’s a lot of verve that needs to go into her character. I didn’t see much verve in the trailer; I hope she’s not being made less energetic. Jordan Baker looks outrageously pale and fascinating. I was caught off-guard by how pale she looked, but doesn’t that work? It’s unusual. It turns heads around. What better for a woman like Jordan? Tom Buchanan also looked appropriately surly,  and Meyer Wolfsheim impressed (unfortunately, the Bollywood actor playing him says he doesn’t get much screen time).

Watching these characters flit through the screen, even if only for 2 minutes, made my heart rate jump. This is going to be a unique take on Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. Anyone with the guts and the vision to put Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church In The Wild” in a trailer for a 1920’s film has the guts and vision to put something ambitious and unforgettable on screen.

One of my friends voiced a worry that the excitement of Gatsby’s life could overshadow the consequences that the novel is truly about. I agree. There were two novels that haunted me in high school, and this was one of them. I was drawn in by the outward energy of Fitzgerald’s characters. I drew in closer and closer to them. When their lives fell apart in cold rain, car wrecks, and gun shots, I was right there with them and I was chilled to the bone.

I truly hope Mr. Luhrmann doesn’t forget that deeper message in the maelstrom of glittering lights and dancing girls.

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