The Beautiful and the Peeved
Well, I don't mind admitting, folks, since Ye Editor weighed in a few weeks ago with his truly extraordinary piece making clear the fundamental and indisputable influence of the career of Mr Jason Statham on the German grand opera tradition, there has been a degree of performance anxiety on display in the 24LAS garret. Have I been setting my brow too low? Have I been patronising my devoted audience (hello)? Have I, in short, not been covering the kind of thoughtful, erudite films that any self-respecting h2g2 researcher would want to see?
Bearing this in mind I turned my attention to my planned offering for this week, a review of Justin Lin's Fast & Furious 6, starring Vin Diesel, the Rock, and Gina Carano, and concluded there might not be enough intellectual chewy bits involved. Luckily, also showing was Baz Lurmann's The Great Gatsby, an adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's era-defining literary novel. A tough choice was upon me, which I immediately copped out of by going to see both in quick succession with a good friend of mine.
Unfortunately, after our unlikely double-bill concluded, my companion and I retired to a local nightspot to discuss the relative merits of the two and indulge in a few cocktails, some illegal street racing, some diving head-butts and the rigging of the 1919 World Series. My memories of the latter stages of the evening are somewhat confused, which is particularly regrettable as it was at this point that I wrote my notes for this review. A few minor details may have got jumbled up, but I hope you will bear with me.
Anyway, this is a big-budget movie concerning itself with the classic themes of beauty, excess, obsessive passion, and the pursuit of money. Our hero is Jay Gatsby (Vin Diesel), a young man who has built himself up from nothing through a combination of social charm, carburettor maintenance, and having a really deep growly voice. But deep within his heart there is something he still longs for, a romance he feels was never properly consummated. His carefree life comes to an end when his associate, hulking muscleman Luke Hobbs (Tobey Maguire) reveals that the old flame he still thinks so fondly of is still within his grasp. She is tough-talking badass socialite and heiress Letty (Carey Mulligan). Gatsby at once resolves to get Letty back, and recruits Hobbs and his companion, fun-loving lady cagefighter Jordan Baker (Gina Carano), to help him in his quest, little realising the terrible passions and hazards that this will unleash...
Well, the first thing I have to say about this movie is that there are relatively few surprises in the story – it's quite faithful to its sources in nearly every department. I was disappointed not to get a knock-down drag-out fight between Diesel and Maguire, and thought that the reduction of Jordan's role in the story did not altogether help the balance of the tale. This is a movie very much centred on its protagonists, which inevitably hampers the development of wider themes.
That said, the beautiful cinematography and energetic direction effortlessly convey the superficiality of the tale, and the thematic importance of cars as representations of both material success and the lurking hand of grim mortality is well conveyed to the audience. Less successful is the characterisation, which runs the gamut between 'obvious' and 'non-existent' – this is a film obsessed with surfaces, never quite delving past them to the hearts of the characters in the story. But it is occasionally quite funny, and always interesting to look at.
How much you enjoy it will, I suspect, depend on your expectations. It's a glittering, frantic, visually lavish film with an attractive cast and great set pieces, but virtually no depth or genuine insights to offer. If you turn up expecting a big, dumb, exciting and OTT action movie, you will probably have a terrific evening's entertainment. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a worthy adaptation of a great American novel, I suspect you will come away feeling rather disappointed.
That said, surely no-one could be anything but excited by the closing scene, which features a hugely promising cameo by the villain of the follow-up. Making a brief but potent appearance, he has a baldy head, a wandering accent, and a long history of appearing in 'dystopian operas of urban pain' (that phrase (C) Dmitri Gheorgheni, 2013). Now that's how to get people excited about your next production, and I'm surprised Fitzgerald didn't do it more often.