Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Great Gatsby: Oscar's Crystal Ball

Can't repeat the past?...Of course you can!
     by Kriss Perras Running Waters | If you're old enough to recall, Raiders Of The Lost Ark opened to incredibly poor reviews...and the early critics ate crow after the initial box office results. The Great Gatsby opened to some shaky reviews and is currently leading Star Trek: Into Darkness at the box office in overall gross, which given the tremendous job of those Treky filmmakers, is saying much. It seems some critics of the flash and bling in The Great Gatsby the film forgot the symbolism in the novel of the green light at the end of Daisy's dock across the bay from Gatsby's mansion: money, excess.

     The moral decay in F. Scott Fitzgerald's social commentary novel is found in the motif of all that post-war 1920's bling. Director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, Australia, Romeo and Juliet) captures with brilliant accuracy the major symbol-ease of this classic Jazz Era novel: loss of morality; the giant dilapidated billboard in the Valley of Ashes with Dr. T. J. Eckelburg's glasses that see everything as though they were the eyes of G-d; the fact such a dilapidated billboard even exists, and where it exists; the Valley of Ashes itself; West Egg; East Egg; New Money; Old Money; the seven cardinal sins of pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony and lust; the subtle presence of the seven cardinal virtues of faith, hope, love, justice, fortitude and temperance; the absolute rush of the near instant wealth from the exploding stock market; the purity and duality of Gatsby as a symbol of both hope and a tortured soul. Even Luhrmann's occasional topsy-turvy camera angle and one time subtle use of the Mogen David cuts into the motifs of excess and social classes, perhaps in the same mockery found in Purim.
     From the flashy yellow speeding car tearing through New York's streets to the seductive allure of the speak easy, Luhrmann created a flawless 24 frames per second in his adaptation. The longstanding professional connection between Luhrmann and lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio (Romeo and Juliet, Titanic) is quite evident in their collaboration here. DiCaprio's work as the romantic hopeful Jay Gatsby is to date his greatest work, even more so than his work in Titanic. An Oscar nom for Best Actor seems highly likely. He embodied the essence, the very fiber, of the Gatsby character in the novel. As a sceptic that such a film could even mildly come close to the fantastic imagery, skillful weave of plot or mastery of social commentary, the film not only does not disappoint, it elevates the expectations of the audience. In a film, much like Titanic, where every twist, each piece of social commentary or character flaw is already embedded in the popular conscience, it should have seemed implausible any director could have pulled-off The Great Gatsby to this level of visual viability. Luhrmann earned the Oscar nod here for Best Director, and too for Best Adaptation, along with Craig Pearce (Moulin Rouge!, Romeo and Juliet).
     The film closely follows the novel's plot. Carraway arrives in New York City in the spring of 1922 from the Midwest. He lives in an era of lost morals, the speak easy and prohibition, glittering parties, smouldering jazz, bootleg kingpins and the excess of the 1920's sky-rocketing stock market. Old Money barrels through life perpetuating their unremitting sense of self-importance as they try to capture an elusive version of the American Dream. Chasing his own, Nick moves in next door in West Egg, the symbol of New Money, to the mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Gatsby. They live across the bay from Carraway's cousin, Daisy, who lives in East Egg, the symbol of Old Money, with her philandering, racist, after all he calls Gatsby a kike, and self-serving husband, Tom Buchanan portrayed by Joel Edgerton (King Arthur, The Thing). Perhaps there is another Oscar nom here too. Carraway is drawn into this captivating world of the super rich, their illusions, loves and deceits. All of their lives are precipitously mounted in excess. Even pure-hearted Carraway is tempted and falls into drunkenness and drugs at Buchanan's secret hideaways, where he carries on his affair with Myrtle.
     In The Great Gatsby the novel, the reader intuitively feels Daisy had ulterior intentions when driving Gatsby's car back from their tumultuous day in New York. The audience is treated to this same gnawing feeling in the film. The conflicts between New Money and Old Money, and those who represent these classes of society, Gatsby, Tom, Daisy and Nick, are lifted into stunning visual form. Gatsby's irritation at having to carry on his work behind the scenes at his lavish parties, when the born into wealth never work, lies just beneath the surface in body language, every expression, just under the sparkle of hope in DiCaprio's interpretation of Gatsby. His portrayal of Gatsby gnaws at you, making you feel his hope, his sense of solitary in his attempts to regain Daisy's love, if he ever possessed such love to begin with. As the character Nick Carraway, played by Toby McGuire (Spiderman), says to Gatsby perception of Daisy, no one could live up to the vision has of her. McGuire is another no-brainer, his for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nom.
     Simon Duggan (I, Robot, Underworld: Evolution, 300: Rise of an Empire) was at the cinematographer's helm in this visually stunning film. This was award winning work, seemless, masterful really. The lighting was ethereal. Much like Gatsby's dream to possess wealth as a means to gain Daisy's love and America's dream to possess wealth as a means of pursuing and justifying excessive materialism, the lighting conveyed the shadowy side of the American social classes. It was a sizzling rave when it needed and yet too a soft moonlit night by the bay exposing the depths of Gatsby's secret hope. An Oscar here is highly likely. (See: http://www.simonduggan.com/ )
     The costuming too was of Oscar caliber. Catherine Martin (Moulin Rouge!, Australia, Romeo and Juliet), married to Luhrmann, brought to life a by-gone era. The shimmer and decadence, Gatsby's flowing silk shirts and pink suit in the moonlit garden, every thread conveyed a mood, a motif, a conflict between Gatsby and Buchanan -- the former dressed in dream-like white and later in a distinctively elitist style. Daisy and Tom too portray conflict in their costuming, she in flowing white of the most delicate quality, he in harsh, extreme masculine colors that portray his need to feel powerful over women of lower social class. It looks like another Oscar is in Martin's future.
     The fact an Oscar nom is likely in the art direction team's future should come as no surprise. Supervising Art Director Ian Gracie (The Wolverine, Australia, Star Wars II and III), Damien Drew (Star Wars III, Matrix Reloaded) and Michael Turner (MI: Ghost Protocol, Moulin Rouge!, X-Men, Matrix Reloaded) are responsible for the quite realistic and dazzling sets. This one seems an easy Oscar prediction.
     The Oscars will be a heated contest this coming nomination round. Yet The Great Gatsby seems a shoe-in for Best Picture.