Review – Is “…Gatsby” Great? (“The Great Gatsby”)

F. Scott Fitzgerald and director Baz Lurmann would have been great pals. Both share a passion for love tragedies and a damn good party! I wonder if F. Scott knew Charles Foster Kane? But, more on that later…

If you read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic 1925 novel, that was the required reading of nearly every high-school student, than you probably know the plot. For those (like me) that didn’t, here it is: Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio, in fine form here) is a millionaire playboy who lives on Long Island circa 1920’s in a humongous mansion-castle. His extravagant, outrageous parties are the stuff of legend and catches the eye of his new neighbor, Nick Carraway (Tobey McGuire), a regular Joe who sells bonds on Wall Street and lives in a small little cottage next door.

Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan (the radiant Carey Mulligan), is married to Tom (Joel Edgerton), a loutish and openly womanizing man whom she has fallen out of love for. But Tom is incredibly wealthy, so staying married to him seems to be the right thing to do. So what if his tryst’s are gossip all over town?

Meanwhile, Gatsby makes best friends with Nick at one of his unbelievably fancy parties and asks him for a favor…a rendezvous at Nick’s meek little cottage with Daisy, his cousin.
Secrets are revealed that Jay and Daisy were once lovers five years ago! Obsessed with winning her love, Gatsby even bought his mansion-castle across the bay from Daisy’s home and has been been throwing his wild parties for years for only one reason…on that one off-chance that maybe Daisy might show up one night. This guy’s got some serious issues!

Finally, it happens! Daisy and Jay meet with all the love between them blooming again like five years before. But there’s a problem: Tom goes ballistic when Jay and Daisy reveal their love for each other him and Tom, in a fit of jealousy, frames the Great Gatsby for a hit and run murder that leads the story to it’s inevitable and tragic conclusion.

Told throw the eyes of Nick as a narrator/witness, this sublime tragedy is clearly a Baz Luhrmann film. He directs the hell out of this movie just like his wonderfully frenetic “Moulin Rouge”: dazzling, eye candy imagery, music-driven scenes, jump-cut editing, and, of course, a tragic lovers end.

With a screenplay by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, Baz slams the first act in your face with his patented wild and euphoric camera moves, then as the second act slows down to reveal the love story, so does Baz and lets the camera move more slowly. The story may be threadbare, but the REAL stars are the actors (especially DiCaprio & Mulligan), terrific set designers, and gorgeous costumes.

CITIZEN KANE (1941)

A cinematic masterpiece that isn’t just a movie, it simply is. A film that has been scrutinized, picked-apart, talked about, deciphered, and has been required watching of every film student for decades. This piece of Americana mirrors real-life newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and is told by a young and brash 25-year-old
(!!!) director/actor named Orson Welles.

Welles, who also co-wrote “Kane” with Herman J. Mankiewicz, directed and starred in this film as Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper tycoon and magnate whose ego and wealth got him everything he ever wanted, except true love.

Just like “Gatsby”, the story is told in flash-back, with newspaper reporters trying to piece together Kane’s life through his surviving friends: Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten), his BFF that gave Kane sage advice, his first wife, Emily Norton (Ruth Warrick), his second wife (and former mistress) Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore), and others.

We look back at Kane’s humble beginnings to his almost triumphant political success (and his consequent public humiliation and downfall). His astounding palatial castle-mansion called “Xanadu” (a sly reference to San Simeon’s Hearst Castle), Kane meteoric rise to fame and incredible fortune and then his ultimate loss of everything until he cries out at his death-bed for the one thing he longs for: “Rosebud!”

Welles was undoubtedly a genius, inventing camera angles and cinema make-up still used today. He bucked the system and defied the studios (and even the wrath of Hearst himself) in making this movie, showing incredible courage and fortitude. He and his Mercury Players made history with this movie that has never been duplicated, not even by Welles. This movie has won SO many awards, it’s ridiculous.

**Rent the move “RKO 281” as a follow-up; it’s a great movie about Welles’ making of “Citizen Kane”.

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