THE GREAT GATSBY
Review by Michael Jacobson
Sorvino, Toby Stephens, Paul Rudd, Martin Donovan
Director: Robert Markowitz
Audio: Dolby Stereo
Video: Standard 1.33:1
Features: Talent Files, F. Scott Fitzgerald episode of “Biography”
Length: 100 Minutes
Release Date: January 30, 2001
Often called the greatest of all American novels, I have to
say that A&E's recent television broadcast (and subsequent video release)
of The Great Gatsby is one of the better filmed versions I've seen.
I actually prefer it to the somewhat sterile 70's Hollywood production
starring Robert Redford in the title role.
This new version comes closer to the original novel, and closer to the
characters than its predecessor…in some ways, it actually comes across as more
literary and less cinematic, but here, that works out as a compliment.
Normally, I don't care for films with too much voiceover
narration, but in the case of this book, how else do you get F. Scott
Fitzgerald's immortal style to come across on screen? The narration by Nick Callaway (Rudd) is taken directly from
the book in most cases, and the words of Fitzgerald do more to set the moods and
character relationships than any hundred yards of film could really do.
The story is about life in the roaring twenties.
As in all eras, there are the haves and the have-nots, and this decade
defined the former by their lavish lifestyles, their boozing parties, and always
being in the public eye…a way of life that Fitzgerald correctly captured as
being rather empty and shallow, inhibited largely by people with little or no
soul. Everyone lived for the
moment, and no one really cared that life was meaningless, as long as it was
Nick is clearly not one of the in crowd.
Even his meager home is separated by a lake from where the upper crust
hobnobs. He can see into that
world, but tries to stay apart from it, until the day he receives a strange
invitation from a well-known rich socialite named Jay Gatsby (Stephens).
Gatsby is a rich man with a mysterious past, who makes
friends with Nick with one aim in mind, which he readily confesses to him:
Nick's cousin, Daisy (Sorvino) is Gatsby's long lost love.
They were a couple before the war, when she was a rich debutante and he
was a poor soldier-to-be. Their
love was genuine, but in their world, poor boys don't marry rich girls.
Gatsby joined the army, and Daisy, despite her devotion, couldn't wait
for him, also recognizing their lack of a future. By the time Gatsby returned from the fighting, Daisy had
married Tom Buchanan (Donovan), and started life anew.
How Gatsby came into his fortune after the war remains a
matter of some question until the end…but his accumulation of wealth and his
establishment of himself as a popular socialite had been achieved with one goal
in mind: to pick up where he left
off with Daisy. He loves her, but
is sadly trapped by his devotion to his dream of how she once was, rather than
the woman she's become. When Nick
finally unites the old lovers, it seems for a few moments that maybe there will
be a happy ending.
But in Fitzgerald's world, dreams often shattered in the
face of reality. It begins when
Gatsby confronts Daisy's husband Tom. “She
NEVER loved you,” he proclaims. Daisy
won't support him in saying that's true:
they had, after all, been married for years at that point, and with a
daughter to boot. Though she still
loves Gatsby, that's not something that can be readily walked away from.
This all leads to a terrible, climactic tragedy, but not
one that comes across like an interruption by fate, as is often the case with
these stories. Instead, it comes
like a dark, sobering exclamation point at the end of a sentence already read.
It was not the tragedy that spelled the end of Gatsby and Daisy…their
end had come when Gatsby had to realize that his dreams of her could not unfold
the way he had hoped.
The true spirit of the novel really comes across in this
production, and while not a fancy or stylized film, it nevertheless is a movie
that maintains a strong sense of integrity and fidelity to its subject matter.
It's not a picture brimming with emotion, but neither was the book…it
manages to capture Fitzgerald's quiet spirit of loneliness, emptiness and
melancholy in simple, expressive ways. The
cast is first rate in their understanding of this:
none tries to inject more business into their performance than was
warranted. The result sometimes
comes across as though they were simply lost souls looking for some kind of
semblance of light.
The Great Gatsby stands as perhaps its decade's
most defining work of art. Like
Matthew Brady's photographs were to the Civil War, or the Beatles' Sgt.
Pepper album was to the flower-power movement, Fitzgerald's novel both
captured a specific moment in time and culture in our country, and grew to
reflect its values and record them for all posterity.
And this film is probably as close as one can get to capturing that
quality of a novel that, in my opinion, will never translate perfectly into
cinema. It brings just enough of
the book's spirit and the truthfulness of the characters to the screen to be
an entirely worthwhile viewing experience.
The video quality is a bit hit and miss.
Lighter scenes look fantastic, with good clarity and definition, and
beautiful coloring. The darker the scenes or the images, the weaker the
rendering. Sometimes even chaps
wearing dark suits become just a mass of color, with no defining lines or
sharpness. Low light scenes make
for even murkier definition. To be
fair, there is no grain, and no chroma noise or other artifacts attributed to
compression, and coloring is very strong and natural looking throughout.
All in all a decent, if not outstanding, picture.
The stereo soundtrack is perfectly fine, if not
spectacular. Dialogue clarity is
solid throughout, and the touches of music give the audio a small amount of
In addition to talent files for the lead actors, the main
feature is a good one: the
inclusion of the F. Scott Fitzgerald episode of A&E Network's
“Biography”. Filled with rare
photos and lots of good information, it gives a terrific chronicle of the rise
and fall of one of America's greatest writers.