A successful attempt to honor Fitzgerald's masterpiece
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While many of you may turn your nose at a movie version of perhaps the greatest American novel starring Mira Sorvino and Paul Rudd, I assure you the casting was wonderfully done. Sorvino fulfills the character of Daisy, somewhat ditzy, materialistic, and self-centered. And Paul Rudd has always been a wonderful actor (let's just pretend "Clueless" never happened). The rest of the cast is wonderful as well. As I mentioned in my review of the OTHER movie version of the Great Gatsby, I was disappointed that (among other things) there was no narrator. Nick DOES narrate this one. It is brilliantly accomplished as well, because he is only narrator at crucial moments where dialogue would otherwise be lost. This movie also includes the famous last words of the novel: "So we beat on, boats against the current, born ceaselessly into the past" which I feel is a crucial part to include in the movie. Scenes were also accomplished with more tact and finesse than the other. The important ones had more time to sink into your memory. It's shorter than the other one, yet you gain more from this version than the older. A&E does not dissappoint!"
Gatsby as Godfather
Billyjack D'Urberville | USA | 01/07/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This wild shot at Fitzgerald's masterpiece sees it all as a sort of proto-Godfather saga, 60 years ahead of its time. Beautifully costumed and with a sharp and accurate period look, this British TV version is a very distanced interpretation (if you can call it an interpretation, rather than an abject misunderstanding) of Gatsby. The take is pure gangland style -- an element certainly in the book, but which hardly subsumes it all -- or ought to, anyway. The story is really about romantic extravagance and earnestness; that takes more than mere costuming and sets, but actors with a lot of heart. The men here have no appeal whatsoever; they're all thugs. Mira Sorvino's Daisy, however weird, is presented as some sort of heroine -- about as far from Fitzgerald's intent as you can get. The dialogue is all accurate, mind you, and the story line is not significantly altered. Simply, this total misunderstanding of Gatsby is an object lesson on how mere "textual faithfulness" is far from enough to properly mount a literary work as film.
You can't blame our cousins across the Atlantic River though. The tight, terse Fitzgerald text is obviously based on the reader sharing certain cultural assumptions; this version exposes that fact about the book, and to that extent is useful. And the Brits never understood Scott Fitzgerald from the get-go, though he has always bugged them. The late great British literary critic Cyril Connelly summed it up perhaps best, "Scott Fitzgerald is an American imposition, and I am beginning to resent him." This was in the 60s, in the heights of the Fitzgerald revival which continues to this day.
The film still rates 3 stars because -- paired off against the more famous Redford Gatsby (which is also quite textually accurate) -- it presents fascinating issues of textual interpretation and personal and cultural orientation. Know the book well though, and see the other film first before coming to this.
In the Footsteps of the Great Gatsby
F. S. L'hoir | Irvine, CA | 03/21/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I am a great fan of Toby Stephens, who consistently turns in splendid performances (even making the dour Mr. Rochester terribly appealing), but I believe that the actor has been miscast in the role of Jay Gatsby. I don't think that Stephens fits into the shoes of Gatsby as F. Scott Fitzgerald has conceived him--larger than life; a man of mystery, who, in the party scene, remains anonymous in the crowd of what Shakespeare would have called "gilded butterflies" and what Fitzgerald himself seems to portray as moths blustering too close to a guttering candle flame. The dreamlike quality of the novel (which, as I recall was evident in the David Merrick/Jack Clayton/Francis Ford Coppola version), is almost totally missing from this latest production.
Where Fitzgerald suggests, the director of this film states outright. in the novel, for example, Nick's memories of his first encounter with Daisy and Jordan--on a seemingly floating divan--are suffused with light drifting through insubstantial billows of white curtains. In the movie, however, Nick simply walks into the living room of an elegant house in which a couple of beautiful girls are lolling on a white couch. In the novel, Nick's first memory of Gatsby is of a lonely stranger, standing at the edge of the water, gazing across the sound at the distant winking green light on Daisy's pier. In the movie, however, the concept has been reversed, in a closeup of a wistful Daisy standing next to the green light on her own pier looking across the sound in the direction of Gatsby's mansion. The reversal of perspective completely misses Fitzgerald's point that Daisy is Gatsby's dream, not the other way around.
These are not the only differences. In the novel, for instance, through Nick's eyes, we witness a deterioration of the mansion, as Gatsby's created world of false elegance gradually disintegrates. As autumn approaches, the proper servants have been replaced by sinister subordinates with underworld connections. In the movie, however, there is no hint of the ugliness beneath the luxurious façade that Fitzgerald seems to suggest with the change of servants.
The disconnect between the novel and the movie is particularly noticeable in the party sequence: in Fitzgerald's narrative, Gatsby's extravagant fete has an impressionistic quality as partygoers and snatches of conversation flit in and out of Nick's consciousness; in the movie, however, the raucous party-girls and their outrageous antics are thrust not only in Nick's face but also in that of the viewer. Moreover, because of the literal orientation of the director, Gatsby's extravagant festivities have a similar impact to Tom and Myrtle's tawdry party. Furthermore, Fitzgerald's subtle use of Gatsby's name and his delayed introduction of the title character, which whets the reader's interest, is mishandled in the movie with clumsy flashbacks of various characters repeating the name, "Gatsby" . . . "Gatsby" . . . "Gatsby!"
While one might praise the scriptwriter's use of Fitzgerald's prose in a voiceover, the writers have taken inexcusable liberties with it. For instance, they have put words into the mouth of "Owl eyes," an inebriated guest who marvels that Gatsby has real books in his library, to the effect of "Oh yes, I look just like Dr. T.J. Eckleberg on the sign in the Valley of Ashes; everybody says so!" Although Fitzgerald may have used "Owl Eyes" as part of his recurrent imagery of viewing (including the disembodied billboard eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg), he never expresses the idea explicitly. Fitzgerald leaves it to the reader to make the analogy between Eckleberg's eyes staring down at the Valley of Ashes and "Owl Eyes" scrutinizing Gatsby's coffin--"Owl Eyes" being the only other mourner besides Nick and Gatsby's long-forgotten father at the funeral.
But back to Toby Stephens. He has charm to die for but somehow--and I believe that the fault can be laid at the door of the director--in this role he lacks that air of elusiveness that causes everyone in the novel to speculate about Gatsby's origins; Stephens is certainly likable as Gatsby, but he somehow seems too literal in his portrayal of Gatsby, a man who has invented himself so expertly that he keeps everyone guessing as to whether he has been a German spy; an Oxford scholar; a war hero, or a con man. In Stephens' otherwise excellent portrayal, unfortunately, no guesswork is necessary."
Heather Hadlock | Palo Alto, CA United States | 12/04/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
"This is a fascinating example of how a movie adaptation can be almost excessively faithful to a book -- transcribing dialogue line for line, including voice-over narration -- and still get the details and nuances almost entirely wrong. The diversity of the novel's social world has been completely flattened out: everybody talks the same, regardless of whether they're from Kentucky, Minneapolis, Chicago, or Queens. Daisy's voice is flat and whiny, with no enticing lilt and sparkle. The costumes are frumpy, especially Daisy's -- Mira Sorvino has been beautiful and sexy in other roles, but in this one she looks like a gawky teenager wearing shapeless cotton dresses and giant unflattering hats. (In the flashbacks, she looks like Rachel on Friends!) The relative ages are all messed up... Tom (30) is supposed to be significantly older than Daisy (23), and Tom's mistress Myrtle is supposed to be significantly older than he is (in her mid-30s).
One thing that bothered me is that the film softened Tom's character significantly. Admittedly, Martin Donovan is a great actor who probably couldn't help making his character sympathetic and nuanced. But the whole plot turns on Tom being an "alpha male," physically domineering and harsh - competitive and contemptuous with men, and instinctively controlling with women. Donovan gets the contempt, but he's too slim and articulate, and he lacks "hulking brute" sex appeal, and he's much too affectionate/respectful with women. I couldn't believe he APOLOGIZED to Myrtle after bloodying her nose -- in the book he deliberately BREAKS her nose (with one blow of his hand) as a punishment for talking back, and then ignores her wails of pain and everyone else freaking out. It's a grim scene and should show his callousness and controlling nature. Instead the movie makes it a twisted love scene, with him striking out, then apologizing, saying he didn't mean it and kissing her. Absurd.
The movie also makes a misguided attempt to turn Daisy - shallow, "careless," reckless, life-wrecking Daisy - into a sympathetic heroine. It sets up a parallel between Gatsby's 5-year longing and Daisy's... makes it look like she has been missing him and pining for him all through her marriage. But in the book, unhappiness has made her "sophisticated" and cynical, not wistful and mopey. The movie tries to give her a heart and a soul, which turns the whole story into a goopy "star-crossed lovers" Lifetime romance instead of the much darker and more ironic fable in the book."
Misses the Point
O Shepard | USA | 03/08/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I had the pleasure recently of re-reading the book and then watching both film versions. This version is definitely not the one to watch if you want any sense of the greatness of F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece. The older 1970's version was not perfect by any means. That film, led by Robert Redford, Sam Waterston, Bruce Dern, and Mia Farrow, essentially captured the subtext of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel of the vapid lifestyle of the rich of the 1920's. Thanks to a superior script by Francis Ford Coppola and great acting by the entire cast, the meaning of Fitzgerald's novel becomes very clear without overstating the obvious. The 1970's film is a perfect companion to any discussion of the novel. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of this version. The only positive comment I can make is that it is mercifully almost 1 hour shorter than the original. The actors are miscast, the set design pedestrian, and the story re-written to produce no more than a better than average movie of the week. The entire point of the novel is missed here. Too much time is spend concentrating on Mira Sorvino who is a miscast as a too young Daisy. The other major roles are dull and not very believable. What can you say about a film (SPOILER HERE) that has Gatbsy killed at the very beginning of the film instead of the end. What can you say about a film that has to add an explanation to the viewer that they are watching a film about the rich in 1920's New York in a voiceover. What can you say of a film that is too afraid to muss up the makeup of it's too young cast and misses a major plot device used in Fitzgerald's depiction of 1920's Great Neck, er, I mean East Egg - that it was a HOT summer before air conditioning and everyone was hot, tired and sweaty. Watch this for comparative purposes only. As a TV movie it is OK, as a depiction of 'The Great Gatsby', this film missed the whole point."