Friday Flicks: The Great Gatsby Meets Its Critics

TIME breaks down which films to see and which to avoid this weekend.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture / © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited

The Great Gatsby

Tagline: Can’t repeat the past … of course you can!

Australian auteur Baz Luhrmann has come in for a fair amount of flak for his version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great American Novel, The Great Gatsby. It’s not as if Luhrmann had too much to deal with when it came to bettering previous versions – there have been five, if you include the made-for-TV version starring Toby Stephens and Mira Sorvino – which haven’t seemed to have made too many people’s best of lists. That said, the 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow did make the front cover of a certain weekly magazine…

But still, the fact that Luhrmann filmed his take on the 1925 book in 3-D, and has hip-hop on the soundtrack, hasn’t pleased everyone. “Not to sound idiotic or pretentious, but I never start these things to be controversial,” he told the New York Times recently. “I never start thinking they’re going to be a big deal.”

If you’re not familiar with the source text, The Great Gatsby focuses on would-be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) who has left the Midwest for the New York City of 1922. He, like so many others, is after the American Dream. His neighbor, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), seems to have achieved that dream and is interested in Carraway’s cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), despite her being married to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Carraway gets drawn into a world which is foreign to him and begins to write a tale after bearing witness to their exploits.

The critics who have witnessed Luhrmann’s current exploits have, in the main, been distinctly underwhelmed. “Even when the movie’s not working, its style fascinates,” begins the Chicago Sun-Times. “That “not working” part is a deal breaker, though — and it has little to do with Luhrmann’s stylistic gambits, and everything to do with his inability to reconcile them with an urge to play things straight.” The LA Times is even harsher: “On paper Gatsby sounds like quite the film. On screen, though, things start to fall apart.” And Salon concludes that the project was doomed before Luhrmann even called “action,” bearing in mind what has gone before in attempting to transfer the book from the page to the screen. “Not everything has to be a movie! This fragile masterwork probably never will.” But the New York Post notes that Gatsby is “a movie that may not be truly great but certainly stands out like a beacon in a sea of silly blockbusters,” while the Hollywood Reporter points out that it’s “a hugely elaborate, well-cast adaptation of an American classic that will provoke every possible reaction.” You don’t say.

CORLISS ON THE GREAT GATSBY: A Mad, Middling Adaptation


Tagline: Evil has a knitted jumper.

In its native Britain last year, there was a fair amount of buzz surrounding Sightseers. Now it hits U.S. shores, hoping to make a similar impact.

It’s the latest feature by director Ben Wheatley, who has quickly established himself as one of his country’s most interesting film-makers, helming the highly praised Kill List and Down Terrace.

There were moments of darkness in Wheatley’s work before Sightseers so it’s no surprise that this black comedy isn’t all about the laughs. And so we meet the caravanning couple Tina and Chris (Alice Lowe and Steve Oram) who kill people they feel are polluting or ruining the countryside.

U.S. critics, for the most part, have been won over. “Doing his countrymates proud, Brighton-based Ben Wheatley pushes all sorts of inappropriate buttons in Sightseers, a sick gag of a film that’s bound to scar only the irony-challenged,” raves Time Out New York in a five-star review. “It’s rare and heartening to see such a talented film-maker retaining his distinctive, uncompromising approach as he takes a step towards the mainstream,” concludes the Hollywood Reporter. But the Financial Times isn’t impressed with the ending (“fatigue arrives and doesn’t go away”) while the A.V. Club isn’t impressed in general: “The relentless contrast of banality with horror seems to be Wheatley’s signature move … But the humor here, ironically, doesn’t travel well.”

MORE: Kill List at SXSW 2011

NewsFeed’s Flicks Pick: It seems as though both this week’s films could divide opinion: for every fan, there could easily be a foe. Perhaps a double bill is the way to go.

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