The Okay-ish Gatsby
As mentioned in my review of the 1974 movie adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" I have never read F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, it was not part of the British education system unlike that of America where it appears every student reads it. So my only real knowledge of Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" is from watching the 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. How does this 2000 made for TV version compare to that version, to be honest old sport not very well and lacks the passion which I feel the storyline deserves. It makes it feel like a movie with actors going through their paces, never fully getting to grips with their character or dialogue which is heightened by the ordinary direction of Robert Markowitz. Maybe for those who have studied Fitzgerald's novel this version maybe more authentic but for me it felt wanting.
Having rented a cottage not far from the city Nick Carraway (Paul Rudd - The Cider House Rules) not only finds him living across the bay from his cousin Daisy (Mira Sorvino - At First Sight) and her husband Tom Buchanan (Martin Donovan) but also next door to Jay Gatsby (Toby Stephens) who is well known locally for his parties. After being invited to one of those parties Nick strikes up a friendship with the millionaire and discovers that Gatsby knows his cousin Daisy having once being romantically involved but from the wrong side of the tracks. Through Nick Gatsby and Daisy reignite their passion whilst Tom is having an affair of his own with the wife of Wilson (William Camp) the garage owner. But as Tom becomes suspicious of Gatsby and his friendship with Daisy tensions rise till catastrophe happens.
Now whilst the storyline and series of events in this version of "The Great Gatsby" differs slightly from the 1974 version the heart of the story is still there. And as such those various layers which build up the story from romance to wealth and symbolism still present themselves. In fact I actually like that some of the excess of the 1974 version which lead to it being 144 minutes has been discarded leaving this version running at a much more manageable 90 minutes.
But the trouble for me when it comes to this made for TV version of "The Great Gatsby" is that it lacks belief. What do I mean? Well far too often it felt like I was just watching actors delivering the lines they were given without committing to the character. It means that it lacks passion and stops the story from coming to life, basically going through the motions. This is heightened by the ordinary direction with no great camera angles or atmosphere being built and in fact in the entire movie there was just one scene, a confrontation between Tom and Gatsby, which delivered anything close to the atmosphere I was expecting. Maybe budget limitations, seeing this was a TV movie are the cause of this but it at times makes it feel lifeless.
As for the casting, well I don't know whether it is authentic to the descriptions in the book but unfortunately it doesn't work. Toby Stephens as Gatsby comes across as shallow with a false smile which does nothing to make the character feel believable, similarly with Martin Donovan as Tom he throws a few scowls when he is angry but it doesn't feel right, doesn't feel like Donovan is Buchanan. I could go on because Paul Rudd as Nick goes through the movie looking bored and wanting desperately to do something funny whilst Mira Sorvino may make for an attractive Daisy but the vulnerability of her character never feels right.
What this all boils down to is that this version of "The Great Gatsby" didn't do it for me and ended up feeling passionless and at times mechanical. Maybe for those who have studied Fitzgerald's novel will find it more authentic but comparing it to the 1974 version it is inferior and less entertaining even taking into account it is a made for TV movie.