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A Greater Gatsby

This cinematic version works, old sport.

May 27, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 35 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
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And what of Tobey Maguire, who plays Nick Carraway? Alas, like the movie itself, Maguire begins dreadfully—with the insanely bright-eyed gee-whiz demeanor of Gene Kelly showing up in Manhattan as an out-of-town rube with a straw hat and glasses singing “Gotta Dance” in Singin’ in the Rain. He’s so over-the-top cartoonish that you hope someone will drop a piano on his head. (Luhrmann did this as well to Nicole Kidman, both in Moulin Rouge! and in his misbegotten 2008 epic Australia, for some perverse reason choosing wildly exaggerated takes for her opening scenes that made her seem like a very bad actress.) In the opening moments of Gatsby, we are treated to the movie’s only plot addition—the story is being told by Nick to a doctor in a sanitarium, where he has gone to recover from a nervous breakdown some time following the events we are about to watch. Here, too, he seems simultaneously overwrought and stiff. But he settles down and gets better as the movie goes on. 

The sanitarium framing device, which seems silly, ends up solving a problem. Nick is an almost completely passive presence in the book, a watcher who never intervenes in the main action. By turning the movie into a flashback, Luhrmann gives Nick the chance to change and redeem his life as Gatsby could not. Once again, that’s not Fitzgerald’s Gatsby—but, like so much else in this unexpectedly thrilling film, it works better than you ever expected.

John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.

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