Gatsby, good, just not great

I've had the pleasure of reading this great American classic novel within the past year. It was fascinating, sure. It was even scintillating in parts. Yet, I have to confess, I didn't get what was Great about it.

However, my interest was piqued when the latest movie announcement came; Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Toby Maguire as Carraway - perfect, I thought. Other than that, I haven't caught any of the media blitz about the movie. So, it was with a completely open mind, slightly mellowed by the glass of pinot noir which our local AMC multiplex began selling recently, that I sat down to receive this latest cinematic version.

Right away, I could see that the script was going to take some liberties with the story, but that was fine with me. And this was borne out in the rest of the film - liberties were taken, primarily in the narrative method, to move the story forward. But, for the most part, I think it stayed true to the original. Of course it glossed over some side issues, like Nick's romance with Ms. Baker. Anyway, coming back to the movie, it opens at a leisurely pace, with Carraway's self effacing and slightly diffident voice introducing the story, much like it opens the novel. After a few CG montages of 1920 Times Square, Crowds in the 20's Manhattan streets and the imaginatively imagined coastlines of East Egg and West Egg on the Long Island Sound, it was not until 15 minutes into the film that we are introduced to the man himself, Gatsby. I have seen several dozen thundering entries of the hero on the screen in Telugu and Tamil films - they all can learn a thing or two how to properly introduce a hero from this scene. It was spectacular. I think the only thing that prevented me from putting my fingers to my mouth to let loose a loud whistle was the empty wine glass.

Well, the story jogs along predictable lines (wink wink). Not much twists or surprises. The sets were eye-popping and the cinematography for the most part was visual poetry. The vividly described blue billboard of eyeglasses next to the bridge into the city was exactly as sinister as I had imagined while reading the novel. DiCaprio looked every inch the cool unruffleable (yes, I made that up) Gatsby - I wonder how they managed to make him look that cool (after all it is summer in the story) - every one else in the scene is sweating buckets.

One thing I definitely expected in the movie was the gorgeous swing music of the era. I mean NYC in 20's is synonymous with swing. You know, Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, Ella Fitzgerald, et al. And guess what it had. Nothing. Not one note, no sir. They had some weird hip hop mish mash that I couldn't make head or tail of. Once I came home, I started poking around about it and discovered that JayZ was in charge of the sound track. OK, but the guy surely knew what swing was and how important it was to the era. All these online reviews raved about the brilliant sound track but, let me tell you, there was no swing in it. And that is bad.

The second surprise was seeing Bollywood demi-god of yesteryear, Amitabh Bacchan! and he plays the Jewish gangster Wolfsheim. The role was quite brief, but the old Amitabh panache was in full force. I later discovered that the cast was quite international, with Tom Buchanan drawn from Australia and Daisy was British. So, an Indian Jewish gangster was not completely out of the ordinary.

The movie was a bit long, but the pacing was even, and deliberate. I was glad that the director and script did not take too many shortcuts, they took the time to develop the mood in each of the scenes, so that, for the literary connoisseur, it was a very fulfilling experience.

However, for the poor jocks who wander into the theater because they didn't get tickets to Star Trek - well, they better read the book now, don't they?


Sujata said…
Interesting. Any thing about Amitabh Baccan ? Did u watch Les Miserables (New) Musical ? Any takes on that movie ?
Kottapali said…
I wrote about Amitabh towards the end. No, did not watch Les Miserables.